A former U.S. Army infantryman who pledged support to ISIS tried to plant an explosive device at a park as part of a terrorist attack targeting a rally in Long Beach, federal authorities said Monday.
An undercover informant worked with authorities to foil the plot by giving the man inert bombs and arresting him after he traveled to Bluff Park in Long Beach to do surveillance, the FBI said.
According to an affidavit, Mark Domingo, 26, of Reseda, took steps to manufacture and use a weapon of mass destruction “in order to commit mass murder.”
Domingo was arrested Friday on a charge of providing material support to terrorists.
At a press conference in Downtown Los Angeles Monday, Paul Delacourt, assistant FBI field office director, said federal agents were on him from the start.
“We covered him 24/7,” Delacourt said. “At no time were we in the dark.”
As part of the plot, Domingo asked his confidant—who was actually cooperating with the FBI—to find a bomb-maker. Domingo then purchased several hundred nails that could be placed inside the bomb, authorities allege.
“Domingo said he specifically bought three-inch nails because they would be long enough to penetrate the human body and puncture internal organs,” the affidavit states.
The investigation involving multiple agencies successfully disrupted a “very real threat by a trained combat soldier who repeatedly stated he wanted to cause the maximum number of casualties,” said U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna in a prepared statement. “Protecting Americans from terror attacks is the number one priority of the Justice Department, and anyone who plots to use a weapon of mass destruction will be held to account.”
Court papers say Domingo discussed several types of attacks including placing IEDs at the Santa Monica Pier and ambushing police officers. He hoped to kill or wound as many as 50 people, authorities allege.
“If we do this, L.A. is going to be locked down,” Domingo said at one point, according to the FBI.
Domingo brought up Long Beach as a target after news spread that a group linked to white nationalists was planning a rally there, according to charging documents. But even after Domingo learned that the event was likely canceled, he decided to move forward, aiming for a counter-protest that had formed in response to the original rally, the feds allege.
Domingo appeared briefly in federal court Monday, where Judge Paul Abrams ordered him to be held without bond, noting that his actions “indicate a serious risk of danger” to the public.
In a gray T-shirt, black-rimmed glasses, and long, black hair, he spoke softly as he indicated to the judge that he understood the charges against him.
His federal public defender said he has not been able to reach Domingo’s family members, none of whom were in court Monday.
A timeline of surveillance
The FBI started watching Domingo in early March after he identified himself in a private online message group and agents linked him to a series of posts where he professed his support for violent jihad, according to an affidavit filed in support of the charge against him.
Domingo’s messages said he wanted to kick off civil unrest with an attack in the Los Angeles area, the FBI alleges.
He’s accused of saying “America needs another Vegas,” referring to the 2017 mass shooting at a Las Vegas concert that killed 59 people.
A few weeks later, he said there must be retribution after a shooting at a New Zealand mosque by a professed white supremacist that left 50 people dead, according to the FBI.
He said in part, “no Muslim should have to experience this, a message needs to be sent,” according to the affidavit.
At this point, undercover FBI employees started communicating directly with Domingo, court documents show.
The employees and Domingo began brainstorming ideas for an attack, including targeting police officers, churches, military facilities and Jewish worshipers as they walked to a synagogue.
When one of the informants met Domingo for dinner, Domingo started pointing out possible targets.
When pressed to come up with a plan that didn’t involve them getting caught, Domingo replied, “Martyrdom, bro,” according to court papers.
In mid April, Domingo brought up the idea of using IEDs to attack a planned rally linked to white-nationalists at Bluff Park in Long Beach, the FBI alleges.
“We’ll have to scope out the area,” he’s accused of saying. “We’ll have to keep up everyday updates about the rally, because at any point they can cancel it.”
He allegedly continued: “Parking’s going to be an issue. We could do hit and run … We drive by, we empty a magazine or two. An AK. And we book it.”
He and the informant settled on the IED, planning to detonate it in a crowd, according to the complaint.
“You’re looking at least 20 people dead, maybe, maybe 30 people injured so around 50 at least,” he’s accused of saying.
On April 22, the informant told Domingo he’d contacted a bomb-maker and they started gathering parts, including the nails, the affidavit says.
When word started spreading that the white-nationalist-linked event was canceled, Domingo considered aiming for the Santa Monica Pier or a rally in Huntington Beach, according to the FBI. But he allegedly eschewed those ideas as the Long Beach rally approached, authorities alleged.
Around 7:15 p.m. Friday, two days before the Long Beach event, Domingo met up with the informant and the fake-bomb-maker who was actually an undercover agent, according to authorities.
With the bogus IEDs, they headed to Bluff Park to scope out the planned attack zone, according to the affidavit.
The FBI said the crew planned to blend in with counter-protestors during the early part of the rally so they could place the bomb.
“Domingo said they should try to find the most ‘crowded’ areas in order to kill the most people in the attack,” the affidavit says.
Domingo allegedly said that if the trio survived, they could head to the Port of Long Beach to set off more attacks.
After leaving the park and loading one of the IEDs into a car, Domingo was arrested, according to the affidavit.
The rally went on peacefully
Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna said local authorities were aware of the situation and were in “constant contact” with the FBI.
Police had a heavy presence at Sunday’s rally, which was peaceful. The event drew about 200 people—who all appeared to be counter-protestors spreading a message of anti-hate.
Bethania Palma, a resident who attended, said she was shaking when she heard the news about the planned attack.
“Ever since Charlottesville, I always feel when you go to an event there’s always a risk,” she said, referencing the infamous white-nationalist rally in 2017 where a counter-protestor was run down. “It does leave an unsettling feeling.”
The city released a statement Monday expressing gratitude to federal authorities and police for thwarting the attack.
“The arrest of this suspect took a highly dangerous person off the street who wanted to cause enormous harm to Long Beach and our community,” Mayor Robert Garcia said in a statement.
Feds say he planned to detonate an IED at a rally in Long Beach yesterday. He allegedly asked a confidant to find a bomb-maker and bought several hundred nails to use as shrapnel. The confidant was working with the FBI @LongBeachPost
— Kelly Puente (@KellyPuenteLB) April 29, 2019
A message left on a phone listed for Domingo was not immediately returned. His attorney also didn’t immediately respond to a phone call.
An Army spokesman on Monday said Domingo served as an infantryman from November 2011 to February 2013, attaining the rank of private. He deployed to Afghanistan from September 2012 to February 2013.
If convicted as charged, Domingo would face a statutory maximum sentence of 15 years in federal prison. Domingo is scheduled to appear in court for arraignment on May 31 where he will likely enter a plea.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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