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Four Indictments in Alleged L.A. Terror Plot

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

In Southern California, four men have been indicted for conspiring to commit terrorist attacks on several targets in Los Angeles. Three of the men are US citizens, one is a Pakistani national. They're charged with planning to attack US military recruitment centers, the Israeli Consulate and several synagogues. Federal authorities say the plot was hatched by a state prisoner claiming to head a radical Islamic gang. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

CARRIE KAHN reporting:

Authorities announced the indictments in Los Angeles and Washington, DC, providing harrowing details of the plot which they believe was to take place as early as next month. US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says the men, all in their 20s, are home-grown terrorists.

Mr. ALBERTO GONZALES (US Attorney General): Some in this country may have mistakenly believed that it could not happen here, and today we have chilling evidence that it is possible.

KAHN: Among that evidence, prosecutors say, was the list of targets the men planned to shoot up and possibly bomb and the firearms they were planning to use. Debra Yang, the US attorney in Los Angeles, says the mastermind of the plot was Kevin James, who is currently serving a 10-year sentence for armed robbery in a Sacramento prison. According to the indictment, James recruited prisoners to join his self-taught radical Islamic gang known as the JIS. Yang says one of James' recruits, Levar Washington, a Muslim convert, was recently released from the Sacramento prison and began executing James' plan.

Ms. DEBRA YANG (US Attorney, Los Angeles): To recruit five people without criminal records, to train those individuals in covert operations, to acquire firearms with silencers and to appoint a new recruit to learn to make remote-activated bombs. Washington told James that he was prepared for victory or for martyrdom.

KAHN: Prosecutors say Washington then enlisted his roommate in the plot, 21-year-old Gregory Patterson, also a recent convert to Islam. The men allegedly went on a crime spree, robbing gas stations to finance the terrorist plan. It was local police who first arrested the men after one of the robberies. During their investigation and a search of the men's apartment, police found the list of alleged targets and alerted federal officials.

Chief WILLIAM BRATTON (LAPD): Make no mistake about it, we dodged a bullet here, perhaps many bullets.

KAHN: LA police Chief William Bratton says the men were on the verge of executing the attack, possibly on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur.

Authorities say they aren't sure, but believe the plot and the Islamic prison gang do not have any international backing. The 21-year-old Pakistani man indicted along with the US citizens is Hammad Samana, a legal permanent US resident. All three men attended the same LA mosque. Mosque leader Imam Junaid Kharsany says he was shocked to hear of the accusations against Samana. He says Samana never discussed radical topics and has attended the mosque since high school.

Imam JUNAID KHARSANY (LA Mosque Leader): In fact, he was such a quiet guy we never, ever discussed, you know, topics like this.

KAHN: Muslim leaders say the case has tainted the role of Islam in prisons, which has long been a positive force for inmates. They say with few prisons employing qualified Muslim chaplains, radical converts easily spread their hate messages. This week, FBI officials began urging prisons across the country to increase surveillance of such groups.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Los Angeles.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.