* Three suspects planned meet up with fourth in Afghanistan
* Men face up to 15 years in prison if convicted
* Court document cites paint ball and firing range visits
By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES, Nov 20 Four men with California
ties who are accused of arranging to join up with al Qaeda and
Taliban militants for training in Afghanistan have been arrested
on U.S. charges of plotting to provide material support to
terrorists, the FBI said on Tuesday.
A criminal complaint unsealed by federal authorities late on
Monday accuses the four men of conspiring to take part in
activities they intended as preparation for deadly attacks on
Americans overseas, including U.S. military personnel.
The suspected ringleader, Sohiel Omar Kabir, 34, is accused
of recruiting co-defendants Ralph Deleon, 23, and Miguel
Alejandro Santana Vidriales, 21, who converted to Islam under
his influence. Those two are in turn alleged to have enlisted a
third man, Arifeen David Gojali, 21.
In conversations relayed or recorded by an unidentified paid
FBI informant, Deleon and Santana spoke about traveling to
Afghanistan to join Kabir and engage in "violent jihad,"
according to the complaint. It said they described potential
targets for attacks including U.S. military bases.
Together with Gojali, they also made visits to a Los Angeles
firing range and a paint ball facility for shooting practice "to
prepare for terrorist training oversees," the FBI said.
Kabir, a naturalized U.S. citizen who lived in the Los
Angeles suburb of Pomona before going abroad in late 2011, was
born in Afghanistan and served in the U.S. Air Force from 2000
to 2001, the FBI said.
He was apprehended in Afghanistan on Saturday and remains in
custody there, FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller told Reuters.
The three others, all listed as living in Southern
California's Inland Empire, east of Los Angeles, were arrested
outside an apartment complex in the town of Chino on Friday, two
days before they had planned to fly from Mexico to Turkey, the
They made their initial court appearance later that day
before a federal judge in Riverside.
"There was no way they were getting on that plane," David
Bowdich, special agent in charge of the FBI's counterterrorism
division in Los Angeles, told reporters at a news conference.
Deleon, a legal permanent U.S. resident, was born in the
Philippines. Santana, also a legal permanent U.S. resident, is a
Mexican native with a pending U.S. citizenship application,
while Gojali is a U.S. citizen of Vietnamese descent, the FBI
They each face up to 15 years in prison if convicted of
conspiring to provide material support to terrorists.
MET IN A HOOKAH LOUNGE
Kabir left the United States for Germany last December and
traveled this July to Afghanistan, where he planned to introduce
the other men to his al Qaeda and Taliban contacts, according to
the FBI complaint.
It said Kabir met Deleon and Santana in a hookah lounge and
introduced them in 2010 to radical Islamic teachings, including
those of U.S.-born al Qaeda militant Anwar al-Awlaki, who was
killed by a U.S. drone attack last year in Yemen.
Deleon and Santana, who were influenced by Kabir to convert
to Islam, went on to recruit Gojali in September 2012, the FBI
FBI officials declined to discuss the suspects' educational
or personal backgrounds, and the criminal complaint sheds little
light along those lines, except for a vague reference by Santana
to time he had spent "around gangs."
The criminal complaint outlines a series of encounters among
the four men and with a confidential informant who the FBI said
was paid $250,000 plus "immigration benefits" in return for his
4-1/2 years of work on behalf of the government.
In one such conversation, Santana and Deleon discussed their
preferred roles for carrying out attacks, with Santana saying he
had firearms experience and wanted to become a sniper, while
Deleon said he wanted to be on the front line but that his
second choice was the handling of explosives.
Both men indicated they were willing to kill people they
perceived to be enemies, the complaint said. When asked if he
had thought about how it would feel to kill someone, Santana is
quoted as telling the informant: "The more I think about it, the
more it excites me."
The federal complaint also draws on conversations conducted
online between Santana and a "covert employee" of the FBI.
In getting ready for their trip abroad, the FBI said the men
removed radical Islamic postings from their Facebook accounts.
Last week, the trio sold personal belongings, including Deleon's
car, and bought airline tickets to travel from Mexico City to
Istanbul on Nov. 18. They then planned to make their way to
Kabul, the FBI said.
At their court appearances on Friday, Santana and Deleon
were ordered to remain in federal custody, A detention hearing
for Gojali was continued to Nov. 26.
The FBI declined to elaborate on Kabir's status or discuss
when he might be returned to the United States to face charges,
saying only that he remained in custody in Afghanistan.