FBI: Terror suspect eyed Tucson Jewish Community Center; Tucson J CEO responds to report

A Tucson man charged with plotting a terrorist attack on a motor vehicle department office in the Phoenix area also told an undercover FBI employee in October 2015 that he wanted to target the Tucson Jewish Community Center, a federal agent testified Tuesday at a hearing in Maricopa County Superior Court, the Associated Press reported.

Agent Benjamin Trentlage said the suspect, Mahin Khan, eventually focused on plans to attack a motor vehicle office in Mesa and instructed the undercover employee to start building homemade grenades, according to the AP.

The agent said the 18-year-old wanted to inspire an insurgency in the United States to carry out the sort of attacks that had occurred in Paris and Brussels and had online exchanges with a person believed to be a member of the Islamic State terrorist group, the AP reported.

Khan was under 24/7 surveillance by the FBI before his July 1 arrest, according to the Arizona Republic.

The J “has just learned about the information released during the today’s Federal Court proceedings in Phoenix,” Tucson J President and CEO Todd Rockoff said in an email statement released early Tuesday evening.

“It was reported today, that over a year ago in a conversation with an FBI undercover agent, the suspect identified the Tucson J as one of several potential terror targets in Arizona,” said Rockoff’s statement, which was addressed to “Dear Members & Friends.”

“The Tucson J is very mindful of security issues and our priority is to protect our members, guests and community. We are continually vigilant and are in touch with our local law enforcement agencies on an ongoing basis, including today, to insure our members and guests are safe and secure.

“We continually evaluate our procedures and will maintain communication with local authorities,” Rockoff said in the statement, adding that anyone with questions should feel free to call him at 299-3000, ext. 101, or write to him at trockoff@tucsonjcc.org.

Trentlage testified that along with the Tucson J and the motor vehicle office in Mesa, which he said Khan described as a “soft target,” Khan was also eyeing an Air Force recruitment center in Tucson, according to the AP. The agent added that Khan decided not to attack a motor vehicle office in Tucson because there was a sheriff’s office nearby.

Trentlage was the only person to testify Tuesday at a bond hearing for Khan, who has pleaded not guilty to state charges of terrorism, conspiracy to commit terrorism and conspiracy to commit misconduct involving weapons.

Khan was denied bail after his July 1 arrest because he was accused of terrorism, but he is still entitled to another hearing to examine whether there’s proof to back up the charges before bond can be denied, the AP reported. His bond hearing will continue on Wednesday, when Khan’s lawyers will have a chance to question Trentlage.