Updated Saturday, 8:32 p.m.:
Federal prosecutors announced in Wichita on Friday charges related to what they say was a planned attack on Somali immigrants in the western Kansas meatpacking town of Garden City.
Three men from southwest Kansas were arrested in Liberal, Kansas, this morning on charges of domestic terrorism. Acting U.S. Attorney Tom Beall says 49-year-old Curtis Allen of Liberal, 49-year-old Gavin Wright of Liberal and 47-year-old Patrick Stein of Wright planned to detonate a bomb at an apartment complex where approximately 120 Somali immigrants live. An apartment in the complex also served as a mosque, Beall said.
A criminal complaint from the United States District Court describes the men as a "militia group whose members support and espouse sovereign citizen, anti-government, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant extremist beliefs."
The arrests come on the heels of an eight-month FBI investigation that Beall says is "alleged to have taken investigators deep into a hidden culture of hatred and violence." The men, who allegedly met regularly to plan the plot, prepared a manifesto describing their beliefs that was to be published following the attack which they planned on carrying out Nov. 9, the day after the general election.
It's alleged that the defendants conducted surveillance to size-up potential targets including churches and public officials who had expressed support for Somalis. Also included in the criminal complaint against Allen, Wright and Stein are allegations of the men having "routinely expressed a hatred for Muslims, individuals of Somali descent, and immigrants."
"They chose the target location based on their hatred of these groups, their perception that these groups represent a threat to American society, a desire to inspire other militia groups, and a desire to 'wake people up,'" the complaint reads.
Beall says the men stockpiled firearms, ammunition and explosive components and prepared a manifesto describing their beliefs to be published after the bombing. According to investigators, the men were part of an isolated group with militia and sovereign ties called "The Crusaders."
Garden City is home to a Tyson Foods beef slaughterhouse that has drawn a diverse immigrant population to the area. Beall says through contacts with a confidential FBI source, defendant Patrick Stein divulged a plan to park four vehicles filled with explosives at the corners of the apartment complex to create a large explosion. The explosion would have had a "serious impact" on the Somali community, according to Beall.
"This investigation is a great example of law enforcement protecting the community," said FBI Special Agent in Charge Eric Jackson. "Today's law enforcement action culminated with the arrest of three individuals who pose a significant and credible threat to our community and were planning to take immediate actions."
Jackson said the three men charged in the plot were committed to and had "the desire, the means and the capability to carry out this act of domestic terrorism."
The Justice Department's National Security Division created a new position a year ago to help coordinate investigations into violent homegrown extremism, like the one that resulted in the three arrests.
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton released a statement following news of the charges, applauding law enforcement "for detecting and disrupting a highly disturbing terror plot."
"This plot is an affront to all Americans," she said. "We must all stand firm in fighting terror and rejecting hateful and divisive rhetoric--and we must do it together."
Kansas Congressman Mike Pompeo also issued a statement in which he thanked law enforcement.
"Threats like this remind us of the critical need to provide our law enforcement and intelligence officials with the tools and support they need to keep us safe," he said.
With all three men in custody, law enforcement officials say the Muslim and immigrant communities in Garden City are safe. At a press conference Saturday, Garden City Police Chief Michael Utz told a crowd that included many Somali Muslims that the attack was against their religious beliefs.
"You are all, whether you're an immigrant, a member of this community," he said. "You are all, to us, Garden Citians."
If convicted, the defendants could be sentenced to up to life in federal prison without parole.
Investigating agencies included the FBI, the Liberal Police Department, the Seward County Sheriff’s Office, the Ford County Sheriff’s Office, the Garden City Police Department, the Dodge City Police Department, the Finney County Sheriff’s Office, and Kansas Highway Patrol, and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Tony Mattivi is prosecuting.
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