WICHITA — Three men planned to bomb a Garden City apartment complex housing Muslims in a post-election attack, the U.S. Attorney’s office said Friday as it unveiled the results of a months-long investigation.
Federal prosecutors said the men were part of a small militia group called the Crusaders and had discussed using four vehicles filled with explosives that would detonate at the four corners of an apartment complex, located at 312 W. Mary St., home to Somali Muslims and containing an apartment used as a mosque.
Prosecutors charged Curtis Allen, 49, and Gavin Wright, 49, both of Liberal, and Patrick Eugene Stein, 47, of Wright, with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction. Wright is owner of G&G Mobile Home Center in Liberal.
“Many Kansans may find it as startling as I have that such things could happen here,” acting U.S. Attorney for Kansas Tom Beall said at a news conference in Wichita.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has been conducting a domestic terrorism investigation of the Crusaders since February, a criminal complaint against the men said. The group, operating in southwest Kansas, espouses sovereign citizen, anti-government, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant beliefs, the complaint said.
“These individuals had desire, the means and the capability and were committed to carrying out this act of domestic terrorism,” Eric Jackson, the FBI special agent in charge, said.
Beall and Jackson declined to say whether there are other, uncharged suspects in the case. They indicated the investigation may be continuing but emphasized that the particular plot had been disrupted.
Beall said the men had prepared a manifesto and that one of them said the bombing would “wake people up.” The authorities indicated the men were waiting until the day after Election Day, Nov. 9, to carry out their plot, and Jackson said the reason was that they didn’t want to impact the election.
Religion and immigration has played a part in the campaign season. GOP nominee Donald Trump, in particular, has focused on immigration and specifically Muslim immigration, and called last year for a temporary halt to Muslim immigration in the U.S.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations called for protection of Islamic institutions around the country in the wake of revelations about the alleged Kansas plot.
“We ask our nation’s political leaders, and particularly political candidates, to reject the growing Islamophobia in our nation,” CAIR national director Nihad Awad said in a statement.
The men charged had been regularly meeting and planning to carry out an attack and had identified a target location, the complaint alleged. One of the men conducted surveillance on a mall frequented by the Somali community and on vehicles used by Muslims. The address of the mall is not listed in the affidavit, but there is a Somalia Wany Mall located at 923 W. Zerr Road, several blocks west of the apartment complex.
The FBI used a confidential informant, who appears to have worked with the government for months and was privy to much of the Crusader’s communications. The criminal complaint and an accompanying affidavit include specific details, even full quotes from Crusader meetings and conference calls.
By July, the men were plotting potential targets, the affidavit alleges, and in August the group settled on the Garden City apartment complex.
According to the affidavit, the men met and communicated frequently to discuss a violent attack against Muslims in Garden City, who they referred to frequently as “cockroaches.” Their rhetoric and speech revealed “a hatred for Muslims, Somalis and immigrants.”
In addition to the apartment complex, other potential targets the men allegedly considered, according to the affidavit, included an African store, a Somali mall, various vehicles believed to contain Somalis or Muslims, city and county commission meetings, local public officials, landlords who rent property to Muslim refugees and organizations that provide assistance to refugees. The address of the African store was not listed, but there is a business called The African Shop at 911 W. Mary St.
One of the men also allegedly discussed an attack similar to the Orlando nightclub shooting. The affidavit indicates the men settled on the apartment complex in August because of the number of Somalis that live there and the fact that one of the apartments is used as a mosque.
The affidavit goes on to say that the men wanted to fill four vehicles with explosives and park them at the four corners of the apartment complex to create a big explosion. The plan was to use four to six trash cans filled with explosive materials placed no earlier than three hours before detonation to avoid suspicion.
It is not clear the extent to which the confidential informant guided the group’s discussions.
Plotting continued into September, and according to the affidavit, at some point the informant introduced Stein to an undercover FBI employee under the ruse that the informant worked for the undercover FBI employee, delivering money and contraband. Stein was led to believe the undercover agent could provide automatic weapons and components for explosive devices.
The undercover operation even went as far as allowing Stein to shoot real automatic weapons.
On Tuesday, Allen’s girlfriend reported domestic battery by Allen. Police response to his residence led to the discovery by Liberal police of large amounts of ammunition and bomb-making materials.
Search warrants were executed on Wednesday, and investigators found a possible detonator and substances used in explosives, and, the police said, close to a metric ton of ammunition at Allen’s residence.
The men will be arraigned Monday.
The Telegram contributed to this report.