Modesto Tow-Truck Driver Planned Christmas Attack on S.F.'s Pier 39, Says FBI
A tow truck driver with Marine Corps training from California's San Joaquin Valley is accused of plotting to execute a Christmas attack at Pier 39, a popular tourist spot in San Francisco.
Everitt Aaron Jameson, 26, of Modesto, Calif., was arrested today and brought before a magistrate in Fresno on charges of attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization. The FBI says he was inspired by the Halloween attack on a Manhattan bike path, and soon after offered his jihadi services.
According to the criminal complaint, Jameson "espoused radical jihadi beliefs, including authoring social media posts that are supportive of terrorism, communicating with people he believes share his jihadi views and offering to provide services to such people, including in the form of his presumably employer-provided tow truck in service of the 'cause.'"
The complaint says Jameson communicated with an undercover FBI employee about "his interest in planning and undertaking a violent attack in San Francisco in support of ISIS" and also talked about providing financial support to jihad.
The FBI was originally tipped off about Jameson because of his pro-ISIS "like" and "love" activity on Facebook. He loved with a heart, for example, a recent poster from ISIS supporters showing Santa overlooking Times Square with a box of dynamite at his side.
The source who tipped off the FBI began private messaging with Jameson on Oct. 24, the FBI says. Three days later, Jameson allegedly messaged the FBI source that he was "here to beg to join the cause against darul kuffar [land of disbelievers]. I'm ready." Asked two days later if he was a convert to Islam, Jameson replied he was and "that is what will make me more useful."
"I can blend in. Or shock and awe," Jameson reportedly added, telling the source that he took his shahada -- profession of belief -- two years ago at the Merced Islamic Center. "I am a tow truck driver. So I can make these services available as well," he said.
On the day of the Manhattan attack, in which Sayfullo Saipov killed eight people with a rented pickup truck, the FBI says Jameson posted a GIF of a crowd giving a standing ovation next to the story. "I'm glad to know we Muslims are finally hitting back," he allegedly told the FBI source. "Allahu Akbar! The Kuffar deserve everything and more for the lives they have taken."
On Nov. 3, Jameson submitted a franchise tow truck driver application with Modesto Police. A few weeks later, FBI agents began surveillance of Jameson at the tow company where he worked. An undercover FBI employee began communicating with Jameson via social media on Dec. 11. "I was a soldier in the Kuffar army before I reverted. I have been trained in combat and things of war. In Sha Allah anything of that nature, as well as funding," Jameson allegedly offered.
The complaint says Jameson graduated from basic training in the Marine Corps in 2009, earning a sharpshooter qualification. He was discharged from the Marines for fraudulent enlistment, failing to disclose his history of asthma.
The undercover FBI employee, who told Jameson that his boss was ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, met up with Jameson on Dec. 16. The tow truck driver said he'd ready the Anarchist Cookbook and could provide $400 per month of his salary to ISIS. Jameson "stated that we need something along the lines of New York or San Bernardino," the complaint states, and suggested using a combination vehicle/gun attack on Pier 39 with explosives to funnel crowds into an ambush scenario. Jameson allegedly told his contact that he could carry out the attack this week, and that Christmas was the "perfect day" to launch the assault. He said he planned to be killed during the attack, and thus didn't have an escape plan.
Jameson was told to wait until approval came from al-Baghdadi, the FBI said. He allegedly said he'd "prefer an assault rifle" and could get timers, remote detonators, PVC pipe, nails and powder; he told his contact that he'd go up to a remote campground in the mountains to build the IEDs.
After the meeting, Jameson reportedly wrote a page-and-a-half-long attack claim statement for ISIS. He then sent along photos of Pier 39.
On Monday, an FBI employee accidentally called Jameson's cell phone from a Washington, D.C., 202 area code, the complaint notes. Jameson answered in Arabic and the FBI employee hung up. Jameson called the number and got the voice mail identifying the name of the FBI employee but not the agency. Later that day, Jameson told the undercover FBI employee that he had "reconsidered" the attack.
On Wednesday, the FBI executed a search warrant on Jameson's house and reportedly found the ISIS letter he'd written with his chosen nom de guerre: Abdallah Abu Everitt Ibn Gordon Al-Amriki. The letter faulted the U.S. for being a "nationalistic, godless society" that "allowed Donald J Trump to give away Al Quds to the Jews." He said that the "Lions of Islam" had "penetrated and infiltrated your disgusting country."
Handguns and a rifle were found at Jameson's residence, but there were few bullets. During the search, the complaint states, Jameson "stated his support of ISIS and terrorism and discussed aspects of the plan to carry out an attack, noting that he would be happy if an attack was carried out."
Jameson faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The Modesto Bee reported that Jameson graduated from Enochs High School in 2009, and when he was 16 years old wrote a letter that ran in the newspaper in support of U.S. forces remaining in Iraq. "Say Saddam Hussein did have weapons of mass destruction (which he did; they weren't put together and could've been within days). Would you like to have a maniac who waged biological warfare on his own people to walk around with WMD?," he wrote. "I don't know what you were taught, but I was raised to finish something you start, and guess what? It's not finished yet."
The suspect's father, Gordon Jameson, told the Merced Sun-Star that he's a "devout Pentecostal" and discussed religion with his son, who he says grew up Christian and converted to Islam about a year ago.
"We'd talk about Jesus - not argue, just talk - and he'd say 'yeah, Dad, we all believe in the same God,'" Gordon Jameson said. "He never once spoke about hate or wanting to hurt anything. He never said anything about wanting to blow people up."
The dad said family members jokingly called Everitt "ISIS" after he converted. He said Everitt Jameson's two young children had been permanently taken from him by Child Protective Services; the mother is serving prison time in Chowchilla. "He jumped through every hoop they put up for him to get his kids back," Gordon Jameson said. "They did him pretty well dirty. A dad doesn't have much rights to try to get his kids back." The father said he was concerned his son was suicidal over losing custody of his kids.
"It's not true. I don't know what the FBI are trying to pin on him. I don't know why," Gordon Jameson said. "He's never once talked about bombing anything. He'd never hurt a single person. He's more of a sweet type of person, a gentle kind of person. He's a peaceful Muslim person."