Mark Steven Domingo, a 26-year-old U.S. military veteran from California, was under federal surveillance since March, according to an FBI affidavit unsealed Monday. Domingo allegedly discussed a wide variety of potential targets and was eventually arrested after meeting with undercover law enforcement on Friday to scope out the location for an attack on a planned white supremacist rally on Sunday.
The FBI had tracked the suspect’s posts online and used undercover officers to interact with Domingo and ultimately deliver a fake bomb to him as part of his plan to detonate an explosive “for the purpose of causing mass casualties.”
The suspect, who fought with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan in 2012, is reportedly a recent convert to Islam. Officials at a press conference on Monday said he was “consumed with hate and bent on mass murder” and planning a “chilling terror plot.”
The suspect had a “stated belief in violent jihad,” officials said, and at different instances had considered attacks to “kill Jews as they walked to synagogue,” kill police officers and attack crowds at the Santa Monica Pier.
“This investigation successfully disrupted a very real threat posed by a trained combat soldier who repeatedly stated he wanted to cause the maximum number of casualties,” U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna for the Central District of California said in a Justice Department release.
News of the foiled attack comes just days after a deadly shooting at a Chabad synagogue in San Diego, in which a gunman killed one person and injured three others. In that suspect’s apparent manifesto, he gloated about having “European ancestry,” expressed his hatred of Jewish people and said he took inspiration from the New Zealand mosque shooting, in which an alleged white supremacist shot and killed 50 people last month.
There was no further threat to the public and no known co-conspirators in the Long Beach attack plot, officials said Monday.
Investigators had been following Domingo’s online activity and at one point, he posted that “America needs another vegas event,” officials said ― in an apparent reference to the mass shooting in Las Vegas in October 2017. And after the New Zealand mosque terror attack, he wrote, “There must be retribution.”
In preparation for the planned bombing in Long Beach, the suspect bought hundreds of three-inch nails to use as shrapnel to do more damage to victims, officials said. During a search of the suspect’s property, law enforcement officers found ammunition and several guns, including an AK-47.
The suspect now faces federal charges for providing and attempting to provide material support to terrorists and could face up to 15 years in federal prison if convicted.
The federal government has come under criticism for its disparate responses to foreign and domestic terror. Federal authorities first became aware of Domingo’s case because an online undercover FBI agent was monitoring a private message group where Domingo had allegedly sent a video professing his Muslim faith and describing “his support for violent jihad.” An FBI informant was in the same private chatroom and eventually met up with Domingo. The case ended the same way many FBI stings do: with the defendant allegedly taking possession of a fake bomb provided by the FBI.
Rather than specifying a designated terrorist organization that Domingo’s alleged plot was meant to support, the FBI affidavit indicates that he faces a charge of attempting to provide material support to terrorists because the bomb would count as a weapon of mass destruction (a type of terrorism that, unlike a mass shooting, is specified under federal law).
FBI stings against white supremacists or domestic extremists are far less common, partially due to the lack of a federal domestic terrorism statute that would broadly outlaw acts of domestic terrorism.
In most circumstances, federal authorities are hesitant to call acts of domestic terrorism what they are. The lack of a federal domestic terrorism statute has real-world consequences: A federal magistrate judge said last week that he’d grant pretrial release to a man the feds called a “domestic terrorist” and said was plotting to “murder innocent civilians on a scale rarely seen in this country,” but who was only facing drug and weapons charges.