SACRAMENTO, California (AP) -- Federal agents have arrested two anti-government militia members in connection with an alleged plan to blow up a huge propane storage facility, federal officials said Saturday. The arrests on Friday came after a nearly yearlong investigation by the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force into a potential threat against the Suburban Propane facility in Elk Grove and other targets in the Sacramento area, the U.S. Attorney's Office said in a statement. The other threatened sites were not identified.
The facility stores about 24 million gallons of liquefied propane fuel and is located about a mile from a subdivision, Suburban Propane spokesman John Fletcher said.
Authorities believe the alleged plan was designed to exploit Y2K fears among the nation's hate groups, The Sacramento Bee reported Saturday. "We think we stopped a terrorist attack," a source close to the investigation told the Bee. "Can we be certain they would have carried it out? We don't know. We had to behave as though they were going to do it." The U.S. Attorney's office identified the two men as Kevin Ray Patterson, 42, of Camino, and Charles Dennis Kiles, 49, of Placerville. They face a court appearance Monday on federal firearms charges.
The newspaper said both men were members of a San Joaquin County militia group and had been stockpiling large amounts of illegal weapons. Suburban Propane was notified by the FBI about two months ago about a potential threat, Fletcher said.
Company officials said most of the fuel is stored in two non-pressurized tanks at 50 degrees below zero, and that if the tanks were ruptured the propane would likely pool within protective dirt berms. They said it could only ignite after it had considerable time to warm and mix with the air. However, Elk Grove Fire Chief Mark Meaker said a major explosion and fire likely would destroy the berms and affect nearby homes, schools and businesses.