September 8, 2005
Local Shuls Were Alleged Targets
The target list of an alleged cell of homegrown terrorists included two synagogues located in the Pico-Robertson corridor, The Journal has learned.
The target information emerged as a federal grand jury issued four indictments last week in the ongoing probe. It was confirmed by a source close to the investigation, although police have not specifically identified the shuls. There is no indication that any Jewish house of worship is in particular danger at the moment, and authorities are working with Jewish leaders regarding ways to enhance security precautions leading up to this month's high holiday services.
Last week's indictment doesn't name synagogues, but it did identify other specific targets, such as the Israeli consulate and some of its officials, the El Al ticket counter at the Los Angeles International Airport and military recruiting stations. The Pico-Robertson neighborhood, however, would be one of many logical areas of interests in Los Angeles for a terrorist intent on harming Jews, because it's home to many Orthodox institutions and residents. The B'nai David-Judea Congregation in particular got attention from authorities in the wake of the arrests of four Muslims this summer. A sizeable police contingent checked on security measures there, said Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, who is also president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California.
Officials declined to state whether B'nai David-Judea was on the target list, and Kanefsky said he refrained from asking, but he also knew of no other synagogue that had received a similar police visit.
The indictment by a federal grand jury charged three American-born converts to Islam and one Pakistani national with conspiracy to kill American and foreign -- apparently Israeli -- government officials, and conspiracy to wage war against the United States through terrorism.
The break that led to a terrorism investigation came in mid-July, when Torrance police, investigating a string of gas station robberies, found a cell phone, dropped during a holdup by Gregory Vernon Patterson, 21, one of the suspects.
That find led police to the apartment of a fellow suspect, Levar Haney Washington, 25, where they found "jihadist" literature, bulletproof vests and an address list of some two-dozen Los Angeles sites. One was described as the "headquarters of Zion," with the address of the Israeli consulate.
An examination of Patterson's computer turned up Internet research on local Israeli targets and the calendar date for Yom Kippur. The purpose of the gas station robberies, authorities later concluded, was to raise money to fund terrorist attacks.
From there, the trail led to Kevin Lamar James, 29, an inmate in a state prison in Folsom, who allegedly orchestrated the plot from within prison walls.
Authorities said that James had founded Janiyyat Ul Islam Is Saheeh (JIS), roughly translated as the Assembly of Authentic Islam, a tiny, extremist offshoot of Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam, which publicly opposes terrorism.
In a 100-page manual, James urged followers to attack the U.S. government and Jewish and non-Jewish supporters of Israel, according to the indictment.
The fourth indicted person is Hamad Riaz Samana, 21, a Pakistani student at Santa Monica College. He, Washington and Patterson attended the same mosque in Inglewood.
While Washington has a prison and gang record, Patterson and Samana were described by friends and teachers as quiet, studious types, without any prior convictions. Their families and attorneys have defended the suspects, either denying their guilt or saying they deserved a presumption of innocence.
U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, in announcing the indictment of the four suspects, said, "This summer, Americans watched so-called homegrown terrorists unleash multiple bombings in the city of London.... Some in this country may have mistakenly believed that it could not happen here. Today we have chilling evidence that it is possible."
Leaders of the local Muslim community have stressed their willingness to help investigators and their opposition to terrorism.
Rabbis and Jewish lay leaders sought to strike a balance between alerting the community and avoiding panic.
"We want people to be fully aware, but retain the spiritual value of attending Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services," said Rabbi Mark S. Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis. There are some 150 synagogues in the greater Los Angeles area.
The Anti-Defamation League and law enforcement agencies have scheduled a Sept. 15 security briefing for local Jewish institutions.
Israeli consul general Ehud Danoch praised the FBI, local police and the mayor's office for "keeping us continually updated and involved."
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who serves on a state Homeland Security committee, stressed the importance of constant communication between Jewish institutions and law-enforcement authorities.
"California has some 50 percent of all likely terrorist targets in the United States," he said. He also urged state attorneys general to pay particular attention to the danger of extremist clergy ministering to prison inmates.
L.A. City Councilman Jack Weiss also warned of the need to remain alert.
U.S. Attorney Debra Wong Yang in Los Angeles noted that "The conspirators were on the verge of launching their attack," and L.A. Police Chief William J. Bratton added, "Make no mistake about it. We dodged a bullet here. Perhaps many bullets."