ELK GROVE, Calif. (Reuters) - Federal agents have arrested two anti-government militia members for an alleged plot to blow up a Sacramento, Calif., propane plant, possibly around New Year's Eve, the Sacramento Bee reported on Saturday.
``The arrests came after a nearly year-long investigation into the alleged plot against Suburban Propane, which authorities believe was designed to exploit Y2K fears among the nation's hate groups,'' the paper said.
It said an informant had told authorities that a militia group member in the area had made threats about blowing up the plant and had mentioned a series of dates, including one some time around New Year's Eve.
``We think we stopped a terrorist attack,'' one source close to the investigation told the Bee, which said an FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force made the arrests.
The U.S. District Attorney's office said Kevin Ray Patterson, 42, and Charles Dennis Kiles, 49, were arrested Friday on federal firearms charges.
Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies including the U.S. Secret Service, the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Sacramento Sheriff's office took part in the investigation, Paul Seave, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District, said in a telephone interview.
``Approximately 12 months ago members of the Joint Terrorist Task Force launched an investigation into a potential threat against targets in the Sacramento area, including the Suburban Propane gas facility in Elk Grove,'' Seave said.
Seave declined to provide further details. But law enforcement officials told the Bee that both men were members of a militia group and had been stockpiling large amounts of illegal weapons.
Sources told the paper one of the men knew how to make bombs and that a large amount of explosives were found after police searched the men's Northern California homes as well as storage lockers and a home in Reno and Carson City, Nevada.
Federal officials said the threat to the plant, where 24 million gallons of liquid propane are stored, was eliminated before the arrests.
Company officials said an attack of the kind allegedly planned could not have detonated the propane tanks.
But Elk Grove fire chief Mark Meaker told the Bee: ``Our experts have determined there would have been significant off- site consequences.''
Some religious cultists and fringe groups are feared to be planning acts of violence to mark the dawning of the year 2000 in the belief that this will trigger the end of the world.