Riverside, CALIFORNIA — It would be a coordinated attack designed to get the highest casualty count: Throw pipe bombs down onto the cafeteria at Riverside City College from an elevated position, then gun down those who attempt to flee.
The chilling terror plot was included in an indictment unsealed Thursday against Enrique Marquez, who officials say was also a co-conspirator in a plan to bomb and shoot up a portion of the 91 Freeway in Southern California.
According to the indictment, Marquez started hatching the plan in 2011 with his friend, Syed Rizwan Farook — who along with his wife, Tashfeen Malik, gunned down 14 people Dec. 2 in San Bernardino.
But Marquez — who was arrested Thursday on charges of immigration fraud, providing material support to terrorists, and illegally purchasing assault rifles — never actually carried out the deadly plans after getting spooked by terror-related arrests in the region, federal prosecutors say.
Still, the fact that the Riverside campus, a community college, could have been the stage for a devastating, coordinated attack on the scale seen in nearby San Bernardino sent chills through the campus on Friday.
Nick Herrera, a tutor at college, was shocked when he found out one of the shooters involved in the San Bernardino attack and his friend were planning a similar one at his campus.
“The attack in San Bernardino already hit close to home because of how close the city is,” Herrera told BuzzFeed News. “It makes it even more real.”
Herrera, 32, was also surprised at how thought-out the 2012 plot appeared to be.
“It’s terrible,” Herrera said. “It sounds like a pretty elaborate and methodical plot to start an attack here and then shoot up the 91 during traffic hours.”
Jibreel White, who was at the college Friday attempting to sign up for the winter session, until San Bernardino and the revelations unveiled in the indictment this week, previous terror attacks had seemed so far away.
“It’s shocking, this is our home, our city,” White said. “It can happen anywhere.”
His mother, Angela Smith-White, isn’t going holiday shopping in person this month because of the attacks. For now, she’s making all of her purchases online.
“I’m not going to go out there,” Smith-White told BuzzFeed News. “You never know these days, and it’s not just the shooting in San Bernardino but there was also the theatre shooting in Colorado a few years ago.”
This year, it seemed as though the number of shooting attacks increased, Smith-White said. The San Bernardino attack brought her back to the days after 9/11, she added.
“These days you have to not only worry about a terrorist attack, but the cooks and crazies as well,” Smith-White said. “It’s sad to think about because this college is a place of learning for so many people from the area and surrounding communities. To think that something like this can happen at this specific college is mind-boggling.”
Siblings Yvette Rivera, 19, and Henry Rivera, 25, said they were also shocked to see what they believe is a wave of terrorist attacks land on the doorstep of their own campus at Riverside City College.
“You see it around the world, but it’s not until it happens close to your home that you realize it can happen anywhere,” Yvette Rivera said. “That’s what scares me.”
Henry Rivera has noticed an increased police presence in the area after the shooting. But instead of making him feel better, it makes him wonder if something is happening at any given moment. Particularly since he never would have considered San Bernardino a potential terror target.
“We’re just on edge now,” Henry Rivera said. “You see the attacks in Paris, then San Bernardino, and now these plans for an attack in Riverside — it becomes a very real thing.”
Adolfo Flores is a national security correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles. He focuses on immigration.
Contact Adolfo Flores at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.