A Modesto man accused of being an ISIS sympathizer has been arrested after allegedly plotting a terror attack targeting San Francisco’s Pier 39 – a top tourist destination – on Christmas Day.
The allegations are made in an 11-page affidavit filed in federal court in Fresno on Friday and obtained by the New York Times. CNN confirmed the authenticity of the document.
After an FBI investigation, Everitt Aaron Jameson, a 26-year-old former U.S. Marine, was arrested and charged Friday with attempt to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.
He made his initial appearance at U.S. District Court in Fresno Friday afternoon, and is expected to return on Dec. 28, the Fresno Bee reported.
At an initial appearance at U.S. District Court in Fresno Friday, Jameson wore a blue jail garb and a beanie-type head covering while sitting at table guarded by U.S. marshals.
He showed no emotion, but appeared to be listening intently to the proceedings.
Jameson's attorney Eric Kersten, a federal public defender, said after the hearing that his client denied the allegation in a federal complaint accusing him of one count of violating the federal law making it illegal to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.
He will enter a plea at another court date, he said.
Magistrate Barbara McAuliffe set a date of Dec. 28 for a detention hearing to discuss the condition of release. She also set a preliminary hearing for Jan. 5, but that's considered a formality because it is expected that an indictment will be issued by then, Kersten said.
Dentention hearing set for Dec. 28. Federal public defender says indictment expected by Jan. 5.
A spokeswoman for the FBI's San Francisco office said she couldn't comment on the case specifically.
"There is no specific or credible threat to the Bay Area. I can’t provide any other comment at this time," FBI spokeswoman Katherine Zackel said.
At a previously planned 1 p.m. news conference at Los Angeles Police Department headquarters, the FBI's acting special agent in charge of counterterrorism in L.A. directed questions about the case to the FBI's San Francisco office.
"We’re always, in the holiday season, have an enhanced state of vigilance," said Special Agent Amir Ehsaei. "We continuously have a bunch of threats we’re monitoring. If there's anything we need to adjust, we will."
Jameson allegedly told an FBI employee he wanted to combine elements of the Oct. 31 New York City terror attack, which left eight people dead after a truck plowed into a Lower Manhattan bike path, with the Dec. 2, 2015, shootings at San Bernardino's Inland Regional Center that killed 14 and injured 22.
The investigation into Jameson began in September when he was reported to the FBI by a confidential source as having “liked” or "loved" pro-ISIS posts on Facebook, including one that depicted a Santa Claus in New York, holding a box of dynamite. He allegedly espoused “radical jihadi beliefs ... supportive of terrorism” on social media.
The source began communicating with Jameson, according to the affidavit written by Special Agent Christopher McKinney, who works for the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force in the small Central Valley city of Ripon, between Stockton and Modesto. In one exchange, Jameson sought to associate himself with the cause of accused New York City truck driver Sayfullo Saipov, McKinney wrote.
Shortly after Jameson applied to become a tow truck driver through the Modesto Police Department, an undercover FBI employee began communicating with him.
Then, on Dec. 16, Jameson met with another undercover FBI employee, allegedly telling that person “he was willing to do anything for ‘the cause,’” the affidavit states. The FBI employee told Jameson that he was working for Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and Jameson was pleased by that, according to the affidavit.
Jameson told the FBI employee he wanted to combine the New York truck attack tactics with the San Bernardino firearms killings, saying he was trained in the use of M-16 and AK-47 rifles.
He wanted to target Pier 39 on Christmas because he knew it was a heavily crowded area, and he was familiar with it. He hoped to use explosives to “funnel” people to an area where he could kill them.
Then, on Monday, an FBI employee mistakenly called Jameson from a Washington, D.C., phone number and then hung up after Jameson answered in "apparent Arabic language." Jameson called the 202 area code phone number back and was sent to the FBI's employee voicemail, which identified the name of the employee but not his or her affiliation with the FBI, according to McKinney's affidavit.
Later that night, Jameson told the FBI contact that he had “reconsidered.”
“I also don’t think I can do this after all,” Jameson told the FBI employee.
But on Wednesday, a search warrant was served on Jameson’s Modesto home. It turns up a letter Jameson signed Dec. 16, stating in part:
You have brought this upon yourselves. … You’ve allowed Donald J Trump to give away Al Quds to the Jews. … We have penetrated and infiltrated your disgusting country.
The search also turned up a will Jameson signed a month earlier, as well as multiple firearms and ammunition.
Jameson was at the home during the search and told FBI agents he was supportive of ISIS and would be happy if a terror attack was carried out, detailing aspect of his plan, according to the affidavit.
Jameson was a U.S. Marine trained as a sharpshooter after joining the military in 2009, but was discharged for fraudulent enlistment because he failed to disclose his asthma, the affidavit states.
His father, Gordon Jameson, told KTLA sister station KTXL in Sacramento that the family is stunned over the arrest.
"I just couldn’t believe it, you know what I mean, that’s not him," he said. "This is not the way he was raised, this is not him."
Gordon believes his son became increasingly distraught after losing custody of his children about a year ago, which was also around the time he shared his newfound religion with family members. He never said anything about radical jihadi beliefs though, according to the family.
His Facebook profile, which became inaccessible Friday afternoon, included a photo of himself with another young man. It was superimposed with a caption that read "Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine." Another photo had the caption "Free Palestine."
Authorities raided the family's home in Merced, but investigators didn't find anything, according to relatives.
"It’s like they're talking about somebody else. I can’t explain it any other way -- it’s not my nephew that they’re talking about," Sarah Jameson, the suspect's aunt, told KTXL.