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(Reuters) - A California man accused of attempting to detonate a car bomb outside an Oakland bank in a bid to foment civil war has been arrested in a sting operation by federal police, authorities said on Friday.
Matthew Aaron Llaneza, 28, of San Jose, California, was arrested late on Thursday after, authorities say, he attempted to detonate the bomb in a sport utility vehicle outside a Bank of America branch in Oakland, the Justice Department said.
The bomb had been rendered inoperable by police and posed no threat to the public.
Llaneza made a preliminary appearance in federal court in Oakland on Friday. He is charged with the attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction against property used in inter-state or foreign commerce, and faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.
According to an affidavit supporting the charges, Llaneza met with a man last November who led him to believe he was connected to the Taliban and the mujahidin in Afghanistan, but who was in fact an undercover FBI agent.
At the initial meeting, Llaneza proposed carrying out a car-bomb attack against a bank in the San Francisco Bay Area, which he hoped to blame on an "umbrella organization" for a loose collection of anti-government militias and their sympathizers.
"Llaneza's stated goal was to trigger a governmental crackdown, which he expected would trigger a right-wing counter-response against the government followed by, he hoped, civil war," the statement said.
The complaint alleges that Llaneza then selected the Oakland Bank of America branch as his target, offered to drive the bomb to the bank, and suggested placing the device beside a support column to "bring down the entire bank building."
It said that in January and February, Llaneza and the undercover agent built the device inside a sport utility vehicle parked at a storage facility in Hayward, California.
As part of the process of assembling the bomb, Llaneza bought two cell phones. One was to be used to trigger the bomb, the other was set aside for use on the night of the attack.
The criminal complaint alleges that Llaneza drove the vehicle containing the device to the target bank branch in Oakland, where he parked it beneath an overhang of the bank building and armed the trigger.
He then walked to a spot a safe distance from the bank building where he met the undercover agent. Once there, Llaneza attempted to detonate the bomb by using the second cellphone to call the trigger phone. Federal agents then arrested him.
Llaneza is due to appear in court again next Wednesday for a bail hearing.
Reporting by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Edith Honan and Todd Eastham