November 20, 2012

FBI: 4 Calif. men charged in alleged terror plot

The defendants, including a man who served in the U.S. Air Force, were arrested for allegedly plotting to bomb military bases and government facilities.

The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — Three California men excited at the prospect of training in Afghanistan to become terrorists prepared, authorities say, by simulating combat with paintball rifles, wiping their Facebook profiles of any Islamic references and concocting cover stories.

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This provided photo taken Friday, Nov. 16, 2012, by Jenny Collins from her neighbor's window shows law enforcement and FBI agents during a raid at the home of 21-year-old Miguel Alejandro Santana Vidriales of Upland, Calif. Santana was one of four Southern California men charged with plotting to kill Americans and destroy U.S. targets overseas by joining al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan, federal officials said Monday. In one online conversation, Santana told an FBI undercover agent that he wanted to commit jihad and expressed interest in a jihadist training camp in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Jenny Collins)

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Members of the media gather outside the home of 21-year-old Miguel Alejandro Santana Vidriales of Upland, Calif. Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012. Vidriales is one of four Southern California men charged with plotting to kill Americans and destroy U.S. targets overseas by joining al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan, federal officials said. In one online conversation, Santana told an FBI undercover agent that he wanted to commit jihad and expressed interest in a jihadist training camp in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Just two days before they were going to board a plane bound for Istanbul — and then onto Afghanistan — FBI agents thwarted plans that officials said included killing Americans and bombing U.S. military bases overseas.

The arrests last week in the U.S. and of the man said to be the ringleader, 34-year-old American Sohiel Omar Kabir, in Afghanistan was laid out in a 77-page affidavit, which included references to the group's online video conversations and audio recordings.

While authorities don't believe there were any plans for an attack in the U.S., Kabir had intended to go on a suicide mission earlier this month but got sick, according to the court documents unsealed in federal court Monday.

Kabir indicated he would wait for the group, which included a confidential FBI informant, before staging an attack, according to the affidavit.

Along with Kabir, Ralph Deleon, Miguel Alejandro Santana Vidriales and Arifeen David Gojali are facing charges of providing material support to terrorists. The charges can carry a maximum 15-year prison sentence.

Defense attorneys did not immediately returned calls for comment.

Federal investigators said Kabir introduced Deleon and Vidriales to the radical Islamist doctrine of the U.S.-born extremist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed last year in an American airstrike in Yemen.

Kabir, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Afghanistan, served in the Air Force from 2000 to 2001, helping to prepare forces for deployment. He was administratively separated for unknown reasons and was given an honorable discharge, the military said.

According to the court documents, Deleon said meeting Kabir was like encountering someone from the camps run by al-Awlaki or Osama bin Laden, who was killed in a U.S. raid last year on his compound in Pakistan.

Kabir was "basically a mujahid walking the streets of LA," Deleon said, using the term for holy warrior, according to court documents. "He was just waiting to get his papers. And I met him at the point of his life where he was about to go."

Authorities said that in video calls from Afghanistan, Kabir told the trio he would arrange their meetings with terrorists. Kabir added they could sleep in mosques or the homes of other jihadists once they arrived in Afghanistan.

Stateside, Deleon and Santana were eager about the prospects of being terrorists. When asked by the FBI informant if both men had thought about how it would feel to kill someone, Santana responded, "The more I think about it, the more it excites me."

Santana said he was easily influenced by people growing up and spent time around gangs. He said converting to Islam was a good move for him because he could fit in and "actually fight for something that's right," according to court documents.

Santana was born in Mexico, while Deleon was born in the Philippines. Both are lawful, permanent U.S. residents.

Jen Collins, who lives two doors down from Santana's apartment in Upland, east of Los Angeles, said at least a dozen FBI agents swarmed his unit early Friday. "It was like something coming out of the movies or TV," Collins said.

The apartment was shuttered on Tuesday, but someone inside removed a sign that read "Don't burn the Qur'an, READ IT!" from a shuttered upstairs window as reporters gathered outside.

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