Director of Reseda mosque: FBI terror suspect sought conversion to Islam after witnessing the ‘mistreatment of Muslims’

by in News

A man the FBI charged on Monday with plotting terrorist attacks in Long Beach recently arrived at the Islamic Center of Reseda seeking conversion to Islam, saying he had been “anti-Islam” but wanted to accept the faith as his own after he witnessed mistreatment of Muslims, said the mosque director Tuesday.

Muhammad Ares said the Reseda resident and military veteran Mark Domingo, 26, attended prayers only twice since the mosque imam facilitated his one-day conversion process three months ago.

“He is not affiliated with the center and not a part of the center,” said Ares, who spoke to the Daily News by phone. “He became a Muslim a very short time ago and he’s not to return anymore.”

It is relatively common for newcomers to come to the Victory Boulevard mosque seeking conversion, but there were some ways in which Domingo stood out from the beginning, Ares said.

Mark Steven Domingo, 26, a U.S. Army veteran who lived at his family home in Reseda and had converted to Islam is suspected of planning to bomb a white supremacist rally in Long Beach. He was arrested Friday, April 26, 2019. (California DMV photo courtesy of the FBI)

Ares said that in answers to brief questioning from the imam, Domingo “said that he was anti-Muslim and now he wants to become a Muslim, because he had seen and observed that Muslims were being mistreated.” Mosque leadership wasn’t aware of where Domingo had seen such mistreatment or that he had been a member of the U.S. military.

“He didn’t ask questions or talk to anyone, just came to pray and left,” Ares said. “It’s common for [a new convert] to want to talk to the imam after prayers but this did not happen in this case,” noting that Domingo appeared different from most other worshippers for wearing his hair in braids and not dressing in traditional garb.

FBI officials said Domingo was arrested Friday as he planned to plant bombs ahead of a scheduled white supremacist rally in Long Beach.

His alleged plot was foiled via undercover work by an FBI officer and an informant who interacted with Domingo in online chatrooms and subsequent meetings – including a visit to the mosque, according to authorities. Domingo thought the two officers were his accomplices in plotting potential attacks.

During his time in the military, Domingo was demoted and discharged for a serious offense, according to recent reports. Those reports cited an anonymous official but did not provide further details.

Domingo’s brother James Domingo, 22, said he thought his brother had found some needed direction from his recent conversion to Islam.

“I thought maybe my brother finally found some sort of guidance in this world,” he said Monday from the Reseda home they share.

Muhammad Ares, the mosque director, insisted the Reseda hub for local Muslims preaches peaceful Islam and played no role in Domingo’s apparent radicalization, expressing concern about the exposure by young people to violence and extreme ideas online.

“I’m so glad he got caught. By accepting Islam he accepted not to be violent and not to kill innocent people or misbehave. But these younger guys they get exposed to such extremes and go out on their own, and its so hard to control,” he said, noting similar cases of internet-radicalized attackers like Saturday’s shooting by an alleged white supremacist at the Chabad of Poway near San Diego.

According to the FBI criminal complaint, Domingo wrote a series of posts on social media and held online discussions with undercover agents “describing his support for violent jihad” and aspirations to kill non-Muslims.

Like any place of worship, the Islamic Center of Reseda balances an open-door policy with serious security concerns. The Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins Sunday, for which mosques in the area are buffing up security precautions.

But Ares said this incident won’t necessarily prompt significant changes in his scrutiny of who comes in and out of the mosque.

“People just come and pray and leave, we don’t ask too many questions. But we are always being careful with new people coming in, especially the younger generation. Kids nowadays, they think different.”