When three southwest Kansas men were arrested in October 2016 and charged with plotting to blow up a Garden City apartment complex where Somali immigrants live and worship, the community — particularly those who were targeted — was left shaken.

While the reality of what could have happened may still linger for some, many local residents expressed relief in April, when the trio of suspects were convicted in federal court of conspiring to detonate a bomb with the intention of killing scores of Somali residents who reside at the complex in the 300 block of Mary Street, which also serves as a Muslim mosque.

After a nearly four-week trial, and 18 months after federal agents thwarted their plot, a federal jury convicted Patrick Eugene Stein of Wright, Curtis Allen of Liberal, and Gavin Wright of Oklahoma, each of one count of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and one count each of conspiracy to violate the housing rights of the targeted Muslim community.

“It’s a good day for Garden City, a good day for Kansas and the United States to continue putting the message that our communities will not tolerate such criminal behavior,” Garden City Police Chief Michael Utz said in April, in reaction to news of the guilty verdicts. “If individuals hear something or see something, they need to say something to stop this kind of activity… so we can prevent a death or mass casualties.”

The trial, subsequent convictions of Stein, Allen and Wright and local reactions to the verdicts collectively are The Telegram’s No. 2 local news story of 2018.

It took the jury less than a day of deliberations to return the guilty verdicts.

During the trial, prosecutors presented evidence to show that the defendants plotted the bombing for several months while holding numerous meetings and testing homemade explosives. The three men’s plan was to carry out the attack a day after the 2016 presidential election.

According to a story by the Kansas News Service, which covered the trial, prosecutors said that the three men, who were part of the militia Kansas Security Force, thought the bombing would give America a “forced wake-up call” on dangers they believed were posed by immigrants.

“They wanted to send the message that Muslims are not welcome here — not in Garden City, not in Kansas, not in America,” prosecutor Risa Berkower said during the trial.

The investigation that led up to the arrests in October 2016 spanned eight months, and involved an FBI informant, Dan Day, infiltrating the small group and recording numerous conversations in which the men discussed and prepared to carry out their plan. The investigation revealed that the suspects planned to fill four vehicles with explosives and park them at the four corners of the apartment complex before detonating them.

“They had set their minds on getting rid of all the … Muslims, killing them,” Day said as part of his testimony during the trial.

In one recording played during the trial, the three defendants are heard discussing putting knives and ball bearings into a bomb to maximize the damage.

The three men were arrested after Allen’s ex-girlfriend reported him to Liberal police on a domestic battery allegation and told authorities that the three men were making explosives.

A primary argument by the defense was that the FBI manipulated the case against the defendants, as defense attorneys said Day’s recordings of the men talking didn’t suggest a conspiracy, just “banter” and protected free speech.

“It is not morally right to hold such hate, but it is not legally wrong,” James Pratt, Stein’s attorney, said during trial.

The attorneys for Allen and Wright said it was Stein and Day, the FBI informant, who were most intent to formulate and carry out the plan, the Kansas News Service reported. The defense argued that Day, himself, pushed the plan along and encouraged the defendants.

Day was paid more than $32,000 for his work as an informant, according to court testimony.

The Kansas chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Kansas) praised the verdicts.

“We welcome the guilty verdicts in this disturbing case and hope that anyone considering turning bigoted views into violent actions will see what their fate will be when apprehended and prosecuted by law enforcement authorities,” CAIR-Kansas Board Chair Moussa Elbayoumy said in April, adding that CAIR had witnessed a spike in bigotry targeting American Muslims and members of other minority groups since the election of Donald Trump.

Adan Keynan, owner of the African Shop in Garden City, was relieved with the verdict, saying in April that many in the local Somali community feared the three men would be acquitted. Such a verdict, he said, would have left the community “heartbroken.”

Another local Somali, Abdulkadir Mohamed, said that while the convictions somewhat eased his mind, evidence revealing that the men referred to local Muslim Somalis in derogatory terms, such as “cockroaches,” was shocking.

“We are people, just like everyone else,” Mohamed said. “We don’t discriminate against people. We are not terrorists. We are humble people. We are refugees. We work for this country, we pay taxes to the government, everything.”

In April, Finney County Sheriff Kevin Bascue said even though the verdicts provide some sense of closure, the incident would not be easily forgotten.

“Now that they’ve been found guilty, there can be some ease and peace of mind,” he said. “But I don’t think this community will ever forget.”

Stein, Allen and Wright could face up to life in prison. Sentencing in the case originally was scheduled for June, but has been pushed back twice. According to an Associated Press story earlier this month, sentencing has now been scheduled for Jan. 25.

 

Contact Brett Riggs at briggs@gctelegram.com.