DEARBORN, Michigan (AP) — A California man accused of plotting to attack a popular Detroit-area mosque was ordered to stand trial Friday after police testified that he had 96 fireworks in his car, including M-80 firecrackers and smoke bombs.
Roger Stockham was arrested Jan. 24 during a traffic stop near the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn. Witnesses said the 63-year-old Vietnam War veteran spoke hours earlier at a bar about setting off an explosion at the mosque.
Officer John Kostiuk said the fireworks were found in a paper bag on the front passenger seat of Stockham's Chrysler PT Cruiser. Officer Stanley Chiles, a bomb technician, testified that Stockham's cache included fireworks that are illegal in Michigan and potentially dangerous.
Chiles said the fireworks could have hurt someone, especially if combined with the alcohol and spray paint that officers found in the car and gasoline in the tank.
Judge Mark Somers found probable cause to order a trial on charges of making a false report or threat of terrorism and possessing explosives with an unlawful intent.
His next court date is Feb. 18.
Stockham, a California resident, has a history of mental illness. He has been caught during the past three decades for a string of felonies — from kidnapping his son and attempting to hijack a plane to planting a bomb outside an airport — and spent time in various prisons and mental health hospitals.
Outside court, defense attorney Matthew Evans said it was "kind of a stretch" to label the fireworks as powerful — particularly in connection with the gas in the tank and spray paint. He said authorities have exaggerated the threat posed by Stockham and argued that police "don't even have matches" in evidence.
"It just didn't make any sense," he said. "Once you got the guy in custody, all he's got is a bunch of firecrackers he can buy 40 miles south of here."
The judge said it would not be necessary to have the fireworks in the courtroom and denied Evans' request to have police bring them in.
Evans said Stockham was interested in social protest, not attacking the mosque, and intended to spray paint the words "Crazy Horse 18" on or around the building. The phrase refers to a U.S. Apache helicopter involved in a 2007 attack in Iraq that killed a Reuters news photographer and his driver. Classified video of the attack was posted online last year.
Evans said Stockham's anger was directed at the helicopter's pilot and the U.S. government for not doing more to investigate the attack.
"He wanted to bring attention to it — he wanted to do it in a public way," Evans said. "He wanted media attention — no doubt about it. He just got a little more than he expected."
Dearborn, a Detroit suburb, is the hub of the region's Arab-American community, one of the largest in the U.S. A third of the city's 100,000 residents trace their roots to the Arab world.
Joe Nahhas, a manager at a Detroit restaurant, testified Friday that he called 911 and the FBI after spending time talking to Stockham in his eatery. He said Stockham told him he was typing letters intended for the media on a laptop computer and wanted Nahhas to distribute them after a "big explosion."
"I asked him where — where's the explosion?" Nahhas said. "He said 'Here, there, the mosque.'"
Nahhas said Stockham spoke of his conversion to Islam after serving in the Vietnam War and learned about the religion from Indonesian mujahedeen, or holy warriors. He called himself a mujahedeen, which Nahhas said "raised a flag immediately" for him.
"I know what the word mujahedeen means," Nahhas said. "I can read, write and speak Arabic."
In 2002, Stockham was accused of making threats against President George W. Bush and officials at Vermont facilities for veterans.
He was released three years later from a medical center in Missouri that treats federal inmates with mental-health problems. Stockham was ordered to abstain from alcohol and continue psychiatric treatment.
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