Coit Tower and Transamerica Pyramid, seen in October from Pier 39 at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. (Daniel Slim/AFP/Getty Images)
The FBI says it thwarted a possible terrorist attack at San Francisco’s Pier 39 after arresting a man who told undercover agents he wanted to carry out an Islamic State-inspired suicide bombing at the popular tourist destination on Christmas Day.
Everitt Aaron Jameson, 26, was charged Friday with attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization. Over nearly two months, Jameson had been corresponding with FBI agents posing as Islamic State affiliates, during which he repeatedly “espoused radical jihadi beliefs” and expressed a desire to conduct a violent attack on San Francisco’s Pier 39, according to an FBI complaint filed Friday in U.S. District Court.
Jameson, a tow-truck driver from Modesto, about 100 miles east of San Francisco, said he wanted to target Pier 39 because he was familiar with the location and knew it was heavily crowded, the FBI affidavit stated. The pier, known for its sunning sea lions, is among the city’s most popular tourist draws, packed with museums, shops and restaurants.
Jameson told an undercover agent that Christmas was the “perfect day to commit the attack” and that he “did not need an escape plan because he was ready to die,” the affidavit stated.
According to court documents, the FBI had been investigating Jameson starting in September, when a source tipped the agency off to one of Jameson’s Facebook accounts that “was ‘liking’ and ‘loving’ posts that were pro-ISIS and pro terrorism.” One such post Jameson “loved” was an ISIS propaganda poster that showed Santa Claus standing in New York with a box of dynamite, with the caption: “We meet at Christmas in New York . . . soon.”
Jameson said he had converted to Islam two years ago at the Islamic Center of Merced — a claim later corroborated by his father — and expressed an eagerness to “join the cause against darul kuffar,” using a derogatory Islamic term for unbelievers in Western nations, according to the affidavit. He also told undercover agents he supported ISIS-inspired terrorist attacks, such as the 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino and the October attack in New York, in which a truck driver plowed into a bike path, killing eight people.
“Jameson stated that we need something along the lines of New York or San Bernardino,” the affidavit stated. When asked to clarify what he meant, “Jameson replied that he wanted to use a combination of the two (which I believe is a reference to inflicting casualties through the use of a vehicle and firearms).”
In his correspondence with undercover agents, Jameson also referenced his prior military experience. Jameson completed Marine Corps basic training in 2009, earning a sharpshooter rifle qualification, but was discharged for failing to disclose his history of asthma, the affidavit stated. Jameson would later tell an undercover agent he was “trained in combat and things of war” and knew how to use both the M-16 and AK-47 rifles, the affidavit stated. He also asked for help obtaining assault weapons and materials to make a rudimentary bomb.
The FBI’s undercover investigation came close to being blown when an FBI employee mistakenly called Jameson’s cellphone on Monday from a D.C. area code, the affidavit stated.
“After Jameson answered in apparent Arabic language, the FBI employee immediately terminated the call,” the affidavit stated. “Shortly afterwards, Jameson called the 202 telephone number, which resolves to a voice mail identifying the name (but not employing agency) of user of the 202 telephone.”
It’s unclear if Jameson realized anything after the telephone call. Later Monday, Jameson once again communicated with an undercover agent and confirmed he could rent a storage unit for their planned attack, according to court documents. On Monday night, however, Jameson told the undercover agent he had reconsidered and “don’t think I can do this after all,” the affidavit stated.
“In Sha Allah one day I can,” Jameson told the undercover agent, according to the affidavit. “But I can’t.”
On Wednesday, investigators searched Jameson’s home in Modesto and found a handwritten letter in which he pledged his devotion to the “Lions of Islam” and condemned President Trump’s recent recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the affidavit stated. Agents also discovered an envelope containing “the Last Will and Testament of Everitt Aaron,” along with two rifles, a handgun, ammunition and fireworks.
“At periodic times during [the Wednesday raid on his home] 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,” the affidavit stated.
At a federal court hearing on Friday, Jameson denied the allegations. He is being held for a Dec. 28 detention hearing and faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted, the Associated Press reported.
Calls made by The Washington Post to the Islamic Center of Merced and to a public defender listed for Jameson were not immediately returned Saturday morning.
After Jameson’s arrest, his father, Gordon Jameson, told the Merced Sun-Star he was shocked and didn’t believe the FBI’s allegations. He added his son had been depressed after losing custody of his two young children and had immersed himself in his new religion, to the point where family members sometimes jokingly nicknamed Everitt Jameson “ISIS.”
“He just ain’t no terrorist, no way,” Gordon Jameson told the newspaper, of his son. “He would never hurt people. Not ever. It’s just unbelievable. That’s not who he is.”
San Francisco’s acting mayor, London Breed, said there were no other known threats and that there would be increased police presence throughout the city.
“San Francisco is a city that proudly champions democracy, freedom and liberty. Sadly, that makes our home a target,” Breed said in a statement. “We will not allow the thwarted attempts of one dangerous individual to disrupt our way of life. We will remain vigilant and continue to protect our city from any threat.”