What do Californian Sohiel Omar Kabir, an Afghani immigrant, a Mexican immigrant, and a Philippino immigrant all have in common? And why did it take a week for the FBI to release a statement on the arrest?
RIVERSIDE – A Riverside man, along with three others, was arrested last week by federal investigators for lending support to al-Qaida and Taliban forces in plans to attack American soldiers in Afghanistan.
On Monday, the FBI released a statement that described the actions of four men…
h/t SDAMatt2a for the video
RIVERSIDE COUNTY — Four men have been charged for their roles in a plot to provide material support to terrorists by making arrangements to join al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan in order to kill, among others, American targets, announced André Birotte, Jr., the United States Attorney in Los Angeles, and Bill Lewis, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office.
According to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in the Central District of California, the defendants conspired to provide material support to terrorists in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 2339A, knowing or intending that such support was to be used in preparation for or in carrying out:
- conspiracy to kill, kidnap, maim, or injure persons and damage property in a foreign country, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 956;
- killing and attempting to kill officers and employees of the United States, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1114;
- killing nationals of the United States, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 2332(b);
- conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction outside the United States, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 2332a(b);
- and bombing places of public use and government facilities, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 2332f.
The defendants, listed below, are also known by alias identities listed in the criminal complaint.
- Sohiel Omar Kabir, 34, a former resident of Pomona and naturalized United States citizen, born in Afghanistan
- Ralph Deleon, 23, of Ontario, a lawful permanent resident alien, born in the Philippines
- Miguel Alejandro Santana Vidriales (further described herein and in the criminal complaint as “Santana”), 21, of Upland, a lawful permanent resident, born in Mexico and whose application for citizenship is pending in the United States
- Arifeen David Gojali, 21, of Riverside, a United States citizen
The complaint, which was unsealed today during the defendants’ initial appearance in U.S. District Court, alleges that in 2010, Kabir introduced Deleon and Santana to radical and violent Islamic doctrine and various extremist material, including essays and lectures by now-deceased al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula leader, Anwar Al-Awlaqi. Kabir traveled overseas in December 2011 and later to Afghanistan in July 2012, where he continued to communicate with Santana and DeLeon to arrange for their travel to join him in Afghanistan, according to the complaint. The complaint alleges that Kabir told Santana and Deleon that he had made contacts with individuals who have connections to terrorist organizations. Kabir further said that he would wait for their arrival before departing to a training location in Afghanistan and that, when they arrived, they would meet “the students” and “the professors.” According to the complaint, the term “students” referred to the Taliban and the term “professors” referred to al Qaeda.
The complaint alleges that Santana and Deleon told a confidential source working for the FBI, identified in the complaint as the “CS,” that they planned to travel to Afghanistan to engage in “violent jihad.” In addition, the defendants described potential targets for violent attacks, including overseas American military personnel and bases, according to the complaint. Evidence in this case demonstrates that the defendants used the word “jihad” to refer to armed combat, according to the complaint.
According to the complaint, the defendants both discussed the plot among themselves and with the confidential source. The various conversations detail the defendants’ plans to travel overseas to attend terrorist training, as well as to kill American soldiers and others. In one discussion with the FBI confidential source, Santana and Deleon discussed their preferred roles in carrying out attacks. For example, Santana stated that he had experience with firearms and that he wanted to become a sniper. Deleon stated he wanted to be on the front lines with a second choice of explosives. Both men also indicated they were willing to kill an enemy.
In September 2012, Deleon and Santana recruited defendant Gojali to join them and to travel overseas to commit violent jihad, as alleged in the complaint. The complaint further alleges that defendants Santana, Deleon, and Gojali made plans to join Kabir in Afghanistan to attend terrorist training, and that they arranged travel logistics, including flight arrangements and required documentation. The complaint details the defendants’ activity in raising funds for their travel to Afghanistan and their discussion of various cover stories and code words they could use to conceal their true intentions when traveling abroad. The complaint further alleges that Santana, Deleon, and Gojali conducted preliminary training in southern California at firearms and paintball facilities to prepare for terrorist training overseas.
Defendants Santana, Deleon, and Gojali were apprehended on Friday without incident by members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force and had their initial appearance before a federal magistrate this afternoon in U.S. District Court in Riverside, California. Santana and Deleon were remanded to federal custody and Gojali’s detention hearing was continued to Monday, November 26. Kabir is in custody in Afghanistan.
If convicted, the defendants face a statutory maximum penalty of 15 years in federal prison.
“The main lesson learned is: Don’t underestimate these groups,” said FBI Special Agent David Bowdich. “This is a very serious case. I think ultimately the outcome was a success.”
Among those arrested last week were 34-year-old American Sohiel Omar Kabir, who was captured over the weekend in Afghanistan, Ralph Deleon, Miguel Alejandro Santana Vidriales and Arifeen David Gojali. All four men are facing charges of providing material support to terrorists, which can carry a maximum 15-year prison sentence.
Authorities said the men had bought tickets for a plane bound for Istanbul this past Sunday after Kabir, in video calls from Afghanistan, told the trio he would arrange their meetings with terrorists.
In a 77-page affidavit, federal investigators laid out their case against the men who made preparations by simulating combat with paintball rifles, wiping their Facebook profiles of any Islamic references and concocting cover stories.
While authorities don’t believe there were any plans for an attack in the U.S., Deleon and Santana told the informant they would consider American jihad, according to the court documents unsealed in federal court Monday.
Authorities wouldn’t say how the investigation began, but they tracked Kabir’s travels last year and flagged violent extremist messages posted online by Santana. Covert FBI agents had conversations with Santana online where he expressed his support of jihad and desire to join al-Qaida, authorities said.
Federal investigators said Kabir met Deleon, 23, and Santana, 21, at a hookah bar and introduced them 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. He was administratively separated for unknown reasons and was given an honorable discharge but not for reasons of misconduct, the military said.
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, who claimed he went to Mexico to learn how to shoot different kinds of guns and how to make explosives, wanted to be a sniper. Deleon said he hoped he could be on the front lines or use C-4, an explosive, in an attack.
Gojali, 21, a U.S. citizen, was recruited in late September and he said he would be willing to kill, court documents state.
Gojali’s younger sister said the family learned of his arrest through news reports that left them stunned.
“He’s not even remotely close to being violent at all,” the 18-year-old sister told the Associated Press in an interview in front of the family home. “He’s not capable of any of this.”
She said Gojali, vulnerable, unemployed and lacking even a high school diploma, had recently become fast friends with Deleon, who was a compelling speaker and popular figure at the mosque the two attended.
Defense attorneys did not immediately return calls for comment.
This past summer, plans to travel to Afghanistan became clearer for the group.
They talked about how they would avoid detection. They talked about opening an Afghan orphanage or possibly posing as cologne salesmen. They finally devised a cover story that they were going to attend Kabir’s fictional wedding.
It’s unclear whether Kabir actually made contact with Taliban or al-Qaida fighters, but in an August video conversation with Deleon, Kabir was with a shiekh or an imam, the complaint said.
Kabir also had intended to go on a suicide mission earlier this month but got sick, according to the court documents. He indicated he would wait for the group, which included the FBI informant, before staging an attack, according to the affidavit.
Using the informant’s debit card, Deleon bought four tickets for a flight from Mexico City to Istanbul. Had the men made it to Afghanistan, they would have attended terrorist training camps and then targeted Americans living abroad, authorities said.
“They saw this as jihad. They saw this as their way to push out the aggressors,” Bowdich said.
Neighbors of an Upland man arrested Friday on suspicions of terrorism said he would speak with neighborhood kids about Islam and going to Afghanistan.
Miguel Santana, who lived with his parents and younger sister in the 1300 block of Primrose Street, would “speak menace” to the kids in the neighborhood and talked about going to Afghanistan, said Manuel Gomez, who frequently visited family in the Upland neighborhood.
In the southern part of Ontario, neighbors of Deleon said he had recently converted to Islam and was dressing differently.
Gojali often prayed at a downtown Islamic center in Pomona where fellow congregants said they were surprised by the news that the FBI had accused him and the three other Inland Empire men of plotting to kill Americans in Afghanistan.
“It shocked me. I was surprised,” said Binisa Mokhtar, while he prepared to drive away from the Islamic center. “All I can do now is pray for him.”
Gojali prayed at Masjid al-Sabireen Cham American Muslim Community, a Garey Avenue Islamic center a couple blocks south from the Los Angeles Superior Court house in downtown Pomona.
President Krya Jacques said Gojali prayed at the center for about 10 years, but Gojali did not outwardly show interest in violent jihad.