SAN JOSE -- The first clue that something wasn't quite right in the quiet Berryessa neighborhood where alleged terrorist Matthew Llaneza's family lives was the guy sitting for hours in a white car in front of Daniele Maggiani's house a few months ago. The man, Maggiani said, was keeping a close eye on the Llaneza home across the way.
Maggiani said his wife was the first to notice the man in the mustache and sunglasses, thinking it odd that someone would spend hours in that spot on a Saturday morning. Later in the day, the man in the white car was replaced with another man, now in a dark car.
But Maggiani, whose work as a global quality manager for a high-tech company includes security training, was as stunned as other neighbors on Largo Drive to learn about the federal sting on Thursday that halted Llaneza's alleged plot to blow up a Bank of America in Oakland.
"It was a shock to know someone had such a vicious thought -- it's absolutely absurd," Maggiani said.
Authorities said Llaneza, a 28-year-old San Jose resident and former Marine who had converted to Islam, supported the Taliban and wanted to engage in jihad. He had grandiose plans of creating a memorable act of terrorism that he believed would create civil unrest, authorities said.
After planning to blow up the bank, the FBI said, Llanezaq told an undercover agent who had pretended to be connected to the Taliban in Afghanistan, he would flee to that country and help train Taliban fighters, according to FBI accounts. But on Thursday night, after a bomb the FBI had helped created to simulate an explosion failed to detonate, Llaneza was arrested and charged with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. He is being held in Alameda County Jail.
The news was equally chilling to many others who live near the Llanezas -- a family few neighbors said they knew, even after years of living in their midst.
"It's a surprise to find out it's someone in your neighborhood," said Shashi Kiran, who has lived with her family just around the corner from the Llaneza family for 17 years.
Still, most neighbors didn't think they were in any danger.
"If he were planning to blow us up, that's one thing," said Jenn Zuverink. "It's actually quite a lovely neighborhood, with pretty normal people."
Some, like Zuverink, said they didn't even know Matthew Llaneza lived at the home; they were more familiar with his father, Steve, and a woman and at least two boys who also live at the brown-and-tan stucco two-story home.
"He seemed like a really nice person," Zuverink said of Steve Llaneza, whom she met at a block party she threw when she moved into the neighborhood in 2004.
Court documents show that Llaneza lived for several years with his grandparents in Mesa, Ariz., where he graduated from high school in 2003. By then he had abruptly convered to Islam before returning to California in 2011, living in a recreational vehicle in front of his father's house.
Santa Clara County records show Matthew Llaneza was convicted in 2011 for illegal possession of an AK-47 assault rifle and high-capacity magazines he apparently purchased in Arizona. Court documents indicate that he likely suffered from mental illness that included paranoia, suicidal tendencies, hallucinations and voices in his head.
Neither Zuverink nor other neighbors could offer any details of the family, nor could many recall any kind of RV parked in front of the Llaneza home.
On Saturday, a beat-up white Chevrolet pickup truck was parked in front of the home; in the driveway was a white minivan and an old maroon-colored Corvette. No one answered the door or a reporter's phone calls to the home. Near the front walkway, lined with potted plants and old pumpkins, was a small American flag on a wooden stick leaning on the ground.
Next-door neighbor Shinya Suzuki, a high-tech engineer, said the family keeps to itself. He said he's seen the mother take two boys to soccer games but said he had never met Matthew.
Suzuki was concerned after reading that Matthew had apparently suffered from mental illness, which struck a nerve with Suzuki, who is close to someone suffering the same disease.
"People have to be sensitive," he said. "Mentally ill people need to be taken care of."
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