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The FBI is indicting an Iraqi man on charges of leaving fake bombs in churches in California, Arizona

A Sacramento federal grand jury has indicted an Iraqi man living in Phoenix after he allegedly left fake backpack bombs at a church in Roseville and another in Arizona, and tried to leave others at churches in Southern California and Colorado , officials say.

Zimnako Salah, 44, was indicted on a single count of false information and hoaxes following a months-long FBI investigation that tracked his movements from Texas, Colorado, Arizona and California, according to court records.

The investigation turned up materials that could be used to manufacture fake devices and bombs, court records said, as well as anti-Semitic writings.

Salah, a mechanic who claimed to have been a U.S. military interpreter and reportedly has mental health issues, is accused of leaving a backpack outside a toilet at a Christian church in Roseville on Nov. 12, prompting the evacuation of the building forced.

“There is evidence that Salah intended to convey that the backpack contained a bomb,” U.S. Attorney Phil Talbert’s office said in a statement.

The backpack was later found to contain a pillow after a church volunteer retrieved the backpack from the bathroom and walked outside with it, according to court documents.

“Church Volunteer recalled thinking that she could ‘meet Jesus today’ before touching the backpack,” according to court papers, which do not name any of the churches involved.

Salah is also accused of leaving a backpack at an Arizona church in September and attempting to do the same at churches in La Mesa, near San Diego, in October and Colorado in November.

Court documents do not indicate a motive for Salah’s alleged actions, but note that he has been critical of U.S. foreign policy in conversations with others.

Last fall, the buyers of a home in Phoenix where Salah had lived were having an interaction with him when one of the buyers was wearing a hat with an American flag on it, court papers say.

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“Salah commented on the hat and said the US was bad,” the court papers say, adding that the homebuyer “challenged Salah on this comment and told Salah you live in this country; why do you hate it?

“Salah responded and said, ‘F— this country,’ and this country went there and killed a lot of Iraqis,” court documents say.

Salah was also detained by law enforcement twice in November and found to be in possession of a 9mm handgun, court papers say, once in Texas in November, where he was fined and released, and days later in San Diego , where he was arrested and ordered held without bail.

Court papers say Salah switched the license plates on his vehicles as he traveled through the West, and that searches of his properties and rented storage units turned up “stored parts of a destructive device or hoax device, such as a propane canister with wires taped to it.” and strips of duct tape with nails on them.”

One storage room also had “an anti-Semitic statement” painted on the wall “in Kurdish, along with a reference to the Prophet Muhammad,” the court papers say.

The incident at the Roseville church began on Nov. 11, when a 2008 Toyota Prius registered to Salah was seen in the church parking lot and then left, according to court papers.

The next day, a Sunday, at 9:40 a.m., Salah was seen “approaching a side entrance to the church, sticking his head through the door, and then entering the church through that side entrance carrying a backpack,” court papers say. .

“Once inside, he looked back and then walked straight to the men’s room,” according to court papers. “He was in the bathroom for about 35-40 seconds and left the bathroom without a backpack.

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“He immediately left the church through the same side entrance. At one point, as he left church, he went jogging. Salah arrived during the 9am shift, so there were no witnesses to his activities in the lobby.”

When church officials saw the backpack, which was attached to the seat of a toilet, they photographed it and called 911, then cordoned off an area near the toilet and began evacuating students with special needs from a classroom next to the bathroom, they say court papers.

Police did not immediately arrive on scene and officials called 911 again.

“They called 911 again to ask if they should evacuate the church and surrounding church buildings,” the court papers said. “The 911 dispatcher told them they were dealing with multiple calls and that the church’s call would be handled in the order it was received.”

An FBI affidavit details how unnamed church officials later described how they responded to the delay.

“Church Employee 1 stated that he then made the unwise decision to try to find out what was in the suspect backpack. Church employee 1 and church volunteer found a first aid person, gathered in the church food preparation area, said a prayer, put on gloves, and church volunteer took charge and they slowly made their way to the restroom and the suspect backpack.

“Church Volunteer disconnected the backpack from the toilet pipes and moved it outside and away from the main church building. Church volunteer discovered a pillow in the backpack. Church volunteer took the pillow and backpack and placed them in a church dumpster.

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“They called 911 a third time and explained that a pillow had been found in the backpack and the situation had been mitigated.”

A search of Salah’s Phoenix home in December turned up evidence of vandalized license plates, a dismembered hat and signs that he was “attempting to hide/destroy evidence related to his deception activities at the Christian churches,” according to the FBI affidavit . “In addition, the black hat cut into pieces also appeared to have a short beak similar to the same black hat worn during the church incident in Roseville, California.”

The search also turned up sermon notes from a Christian church in La Mesa, where officials described encountering a “suspicious individual” with a backpack in October who left in a Prussian with Arizona license plates, court papers say.

Salah also visited churches in Greenwood Village, Colorado, and Scottsdale, Arizona, where he “participated in a hoax or hoax-like suspicious activity,” court papers say, including leaving a backpack in the sanctuary of the Scottsdale church.

“Between September 24, 2023 and his arrest in San Diego County on November 28, 2023, Salah attended at least four churches, one in Arizona, two in California and one in Colorado,” the court papers said. “On each of the trips, Salah only visited briefly and did not attend church services.

“Every time, Salah wore a backpack. At two of the four churches he placed a backpack in the church and left immediately.”

A family member later told the FBI that Salah “had a history of making poor decisions, had run-ins with authorities since an early age and may have had some mental instability,” court papers say.

Salah faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted.

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