The San Clemente office of Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, was among the targets of a bombing plot allegedly planned by two members of a militant Jewish organization as a "wake-up call" to Arabs, federal authorities said Wednesday. A Los Angeles mosque also was targeted.
Issa, a freshman lawmaker who is the grandson of a Lebanese immigrant, has traveled to the volatile Middle East region, both as a private citizen and a representative of Congress, to encourage the various factions to work for peace.
Issa said Wednesday that he was on his way to a committee meeting at the Capitol when he learned of the plot and the men's arrests. He said he was shocked by the news and could only speculate on the reasons why he was singled out.
"Your initial reaction is 'You've got to be kidding'," Issa said in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C., where some offices in the U.S. Capitol are still barricaded because of anthrax contamination. "Nothing should shock you anymore, but it still does."
FBI agents were alerted to the alleged plan by a government source who participated in several strategy meetings held by Jewish Defense League Chairman Irving David Rubin, 56, and JDL member Earl Leslie Krugel, 59.
The men were arrested Tuesday night after the last component of the bomb ---- explosive powder ---- was delivered to Krugel's home, authorities said. It was not immediately clear when the alleged plot began or what prompted it.
In one meeting, the men told the FBI source to gather information on Islamic institutions in San Diego for a possible attack, court papers state. Rubin and Krugel were arraigned in federal court Wednesday afternoon on two counts of possessing a destructive device with the intent to commit a crime of violence. Both men are being held without bail.
If convicted on both counts, each man faces up to 35 years in prison.
Issa said several safety measures have been taken to protect his San Clemente staff members, who were temporarily moved to his Vista office inside the courthouse where all visitors would be subject to a security screening by sheriff's deputies.
Staff members declined to comment on their reactions to the threat. Three people work full-time in the Vista office, two in San Clemente in Orange County and one in the Riverside County community of Temecula. Issa represents the 49th Congressional District.
Issa said his wife was with him in Washington, D.C., and his son has been alerted to take extra precautions. His chief of staff, Dale Neugebauer, said the Capitol police have been in touch with the San Diego County Sheriff's Department office in Vista about security for Issa's son.
In a statement released by the Anti-Defamation League, San Diego resident and regional director Morris Casuto said the league has been tracking the activities of the JDL for more than 25 years.
"For many years, the JDL has engaged in counterproductive tactics against those it perceives as a threat," the statement reads. "If the current allegations prove true, ADL abhors and condemns this potential terrorist plot to attack members of our community."
Originally formed by Meir Kahane to mount armed response to anti-Semitic acts in New York, the JDL gained notoriety when its members were linked to bombings in the United States, most of them aimed at Soviet targets in retaliation for the way that country treated its Jews.
Kahane left the JDL in the 1980s. A power struggle ensued, with Rubin among the contenders for its leadership. Kahane was assassinated in New York in 1990. The JDL claims to have 13,000 members, but experts say it may have only a few dozen active members.
Issa, 46, serves on the House Committee on International Relations and supports Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. He made two trips to the Middle East following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to broker support for the war against terrorism and promote talks between Palestinians and Israelis.
"All agree this was an unusual act by a small band" of individuals, Issa said in Washington, flanked by several Jewish lawmakers. "Perhaps in another country, we would be adversaries," he said. "We're not going to be divided by ethnic backgrounds."
Tajuddin Shuaib, director of the King Fahd Mosque in Culver City, which was also targeted, said no threats had been received by the mosque. He noted that the alleged plot came during the holy month of Ramadan, when as many as 1,000 people attend the mosque to pray.
"I can't understand why people would do such a thing," he said. "We are not against Jews. We are not against anybody. We are like any church or synagogue or temple."
Federal authorities said the original target was the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles, but that target was dropped during a meeting last weekend.
Rubin's attorney, Peter Morris, said his client had nothing to do with the explosives. "It seems to us that, given the timing ... the government's action is part of an overreaction to the Sept. 11 events," he said.
Rubin's wife, Shelley, said her husband and Krugel "are completely innocent of anything."
"They are law-abiding, good people," she said.
Rubin has made a career out of confrontation, challenging white supremacists to fistfights, or burning a Confederate flag outside a courthouse. By his own count he has been arrested more than 40 times. In 1980, he was tried and acquitted of soliciting the murders of Nazis in the United States.
Maher Hathout, a senior adviser for the Los Angeles chapter of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, said the arrests sent an encouraging message to the Muslim community.
"We can easily develop an attitude that (federal authorities) are out to get us," he said. "But it seems they are out to get anyone who breaks the law."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.