Four California men were arrested and charged with plotting to kill Americans on behalf of the Taliban, according to an announcement from André Birotte Jr., U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles, and Bill Lewis, assistant director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Division.
The suspects allegedly “conspired to provide material support to terrorists in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 2339A,” according to the FBI. Two of the defendants are United States citizens, and one was in the process of becoming a citizen.
The suspects intended to travel to Afghanistan to wage jihad, and their leader, an Air Force veteran, was already there, preparing for the others to join him.
The first court hearing on the case was held Monday, Nov. 19, when the complaint was unsealed. The quartet allegedly conspired to “kill, kidnap, maim, or injure persons and damage property in a foreign country,” and to “use a weapon of mass destruction outside the United States,” according to the FBI.
If found guilty the four could be sentenced to a maximum of 15 years in federal prison.
A confidential source as well as social media postings led to the arrests of Soheil Omar Kabir, 34, a U.S. citizen and Air Force veteran born in Afghanistan; Ralph Deleon, 23, a legal permanent resident born in the Philippines; Miguel Alejandro Santana Vidriales, 21, born in Mexico and in the process of becoming a citizen; and Arifeen David Gojali, 21, a U.S. citizen.
Kabir has been arrested and is in custody in Afghanistan.
In September, Deleon and Santana recruited Gojali to join Kabir in Afghanistan to commit “violent jihad,” according the complaint.
All four were followers of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, under the American-born leader Anwar Al-Awlaki, who was killed by an American drone strike in Yemen in September 2011. Al-Awlaki was known for his focus on recruiting Americans to al-Qaeda.
The confidential source, named CS in the complaint, told the FBI that Kabir recruited Deleon and Santana in 2010 using essays and lectures from Al-Awlaki. According to CS, Kabir went to Afghanistan in July and stayed in touch with the others, discussing their plans to travel to Afghanistan for terrorist training and to kill Americans.
CS also said that Santana told him he had firearm experience and wanted to be a sniper. Deleon said that his first choice was to fight on the front lines, and his second choice was to use explosives, according to the source.
The suspects allegedly practiced for jihad at firing ranges and paintball facilities in California.
Deleon, Kabir, and Santana had been posting jihadist statements on Facebook since at least 2011, according the court document. Kabir was most prolific, with links to videos and writings from Al-Awlaki and footage of suicide bombings and mujahedeen fighters in Afghanistan.
According to a June story on National Public Radio, the FBI is tracking as many as 100 terrorists with ties to the military.
The United States Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California and the Counterterrorism Section of the Justice Department’s National Security Division will prosecute the case.
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