An investigation into alleged home-grown Muslim extremists has yielded another arrest and prompted law-enforcement agencies and Jewish institutions to tighten security as the Jewish High Holidays approach.
The probe by the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force has apparently broadened with last month's arrest of Hamad Riaz Samana, a 21-year-old Pakistani student at Santa Monica College. Samana was taken into custody with no fanfare and information about him did not appear in published accounts for about two weeks.
In all, more than 200 federal and local counter-terrorism agents are probing for links between possible planned attacks on local Israeli and Jewish targets and the activities of Islamic gangs in California prisons.
Reflecting a heightened focus on security, the regional chapter of the Anti-Defamation League, working with federal and local authorities, will hold a security briefing for Jewish institutions on Sept. 15.
Samana and the two other men previously arrested attended the same mosque in Inglewood. Authorities are looking into whether one or more of the suspects planned a shooting spree at Jewish targets allegedly included on a list found in the possessions of one of the suspects.
So far, the lengthy and highly secretive investigation has led to the arrest of a Pakistani national and two Black Muslim converts.
The case started mundanely in mid-July when Torrance police arrested Levar Haney Washington, 25, and Gregory Vernon Patterson, 21, as suspects in a string of gas station robberies.
A search of Washington's apartment turned up what police described as "jihadist" literature, bulletproof vests and an address list of some two-dozen Jewish and non-Jewish Los Angeles sites.
Two separate entries referred to the "headquarters of Zion," listing the address of the Israeli consulate and the El Al ticket counter at the Los Angeles International Airport, the site of a shooting rampage in 2002 by an Egyptian immigrant who killed two Israeli Americans.
Also listed were two synagogues and a number of California National Guard recruiting stations.
The Los Angeles Times reported that the probe also is targeting California's New Folsom state prison, where Washington converted to Islam while serving a term for assault and battery.
A particular focus is a group called Jamiyyat Ul Islam Is Saheeh (JIS), roughly translated as the Assembly of Authentic Islam.
According to gang specialists, JIS has operated at the Old and New Folsom prisons for five years and is the smaller of two Islamic gangs active in California prisons.
Counter-terrorism officials have long seen prisons as likely breeding grounds for homegrown Islamic extremist groups, who could plot attacks in the United States without any direct links to overseas networks.
Earlier this year, FBI Director Robert Mueller told the Senate Intelligence Committee that "prisons continue to be fertile ground for extremists who exploit both a prisoner's conversion to Islam while still in prison, as well as their socioeconomic status and placement in the community upon their release."
Authorities also are looking into the circumstances surrounding Patterson's work at a duty-free gift shop at the airport's international terminal, which also houses the El Al ticket counter, the Times reported. Although he's a suspect in the alleged gas station holdups, Patterson has no criminal record.
All parties in the investigation have been extremely tight-lipped. The FBI declined comment, prison authorities said they could not speak about "disruptive groups," and the Israeli consulate did not "wish to elaborate at this time."
At a recent Los Angeles press conference, heads of local Islamic organizations and Islamic prison chaplains complained that FBI leaks to the media on unproven allegations were eroding the cooperative relationship between themselves and law-enforcement agencies.
These Muslims leaders included representatives of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California. They stressed the peaceful nature of their faith and asserted that Muslim chaplains working in prisons were among the best lines of defense against extremists who might be recruiting behind bars.
Representatives of Jewish organizations and institutions interested in attending the ADL security briefing on Sept. 15 should respond by Sept. 8 to Lucinda Inganni at (310) 446-8000, ext. 261, or e-mail email@example.com.