A Salinas man previously convicted of attacks leaving his victims permanently disfigured or partially blind was sentenced Monday to 19 years and four months in state prison for driving around with bombs in his car in Brea last September, according to prosecutors.
Saleh Abdallah Ali, 48, was convicted of seven felony charges including use of a destructive device with the intent to injure and possession of materials with intent to unlawfully make a destructive device on March 4, according to the Orange County District Attorney's Office. The discovery of bombs inside his car happened during what one police lieutenant described as a "completely random car stop" on Sept. 18, 2018.
Ali was pulled over for having expired registration as he drove in the area of South Orange Avenue and Imperial Highway around 9 p.m., according to Brea police. The rookie officer who stopped him ended up impounding the black Toyota Corolla he was driving after discovering his driver's license was suspended, Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer told reporters Monday.
During a later "inventory search" of the car, which are routine for impounded vehicles so drivers can keep track of possessions, the officer found two homemade bombs, Spitzer said. Officials also found several materials used for making bombs.
Ali was booked into Orange County Jail and the devices were eventually rendered safe by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department’s bomb squad. Intelligence officials determined the devices did not have any connections to organized terrorism, sheriff's officials said.
But prosecutors pursued the maximum sentence possible for Ali's crimes, none of which are considered a serious and violent felony under current California law, Spitzer said.
"There was no doubt, no doubt that he had the intent, by his possession of these weapons, to commit as much destruction as he could," Spitzer said, later outlining Ali's history of savage attacks.
"He took a boxcutter and cut a man all across his face. He took out a firearm on a prior occasion and shot at people," Spitzer said of crimes Ali committed in Passaic County, New Jersey, in 2001.
He fired a gun multiple times at his brother-in-law and another person, ages 30 and 17, and slashed the face of a 23-year-old man "from his earlobe to his chin" after they got into a verbal argument in the parking lot of a Dunkin Donuts, according to a news release from the DA's office. The slashing victim had plastic surgery but was still left with a disfiguring scar.
In 2003, Ali was convicted for the two separate incidents. A jury found him guilty of two counts of terroristic threats and possession of a weapon with an unlawful purpose for the shooting, and he pled guilty to aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury for the slashing.
He was sentenced to prison but Orange County prosecutors have not said how long that sentence was.
Ten years later, Ali threw a glass full of acid in the face of a 39-year-old hotel manager in Nepal, cutting the victim's flesh with shards of broken glass and leaving burns all over his entire face, prosecutors said. The victim underwent five surgeries but was left with permanent blindness in his right eye and a 50 percent loss of sight in his left eye. Ali was sentenced to two years in prison.
Such a violent past convinced Deputy Orange County District Attorney Susan Laird to pursue the maximum convictions and sentencing possible, she told reporters. She learned of the past convictions from FBI officials also working the case.
She succeeded in having the other crimes, none of which occurred in California, treated as convictions within the state that can count as "strikes" — raising Ali's initial expected sentence of about 11 years in prison to 19 years and four months.
According to Spitzer, if the bomb charges were treated as a serious and violent felony, Ali would have faced 78 years to life in state prison. He urged California lawmakers to change how such charges are categorized and ultimately sentenced.
"I absolutely believe he was acting as a wannabe terrorist," Spitzer said, saying Ali's conviction in Orange County will prevent him from committing other brutal attacks in the near future.
"He was not on our radar," FBI Assistant Special Agent Joshua Stone said, commending the actions of local officials — "from the rookie police officer in Brea … to how swiftly the DA acted on this information."
"In this particular case, we got lucky," Stone said.