RIVERSIDE, Calif. (KTLA) — One of the four Southern California men accused of plotting terrorist attacks against Americans is expected to be in court Monday for a bail hearing.
Police arrested 21-year-old Riverside resident Arifeen Gojali on Nov. 16 along with three other men for allegedly planning terrorist attacks on government facilities and members of the military overseas.
The central figure in the alleged plot is Sohiel Kabir, 34, a native Afghan and naturalized U.S. citizen who has lived in Pomona and served in the U.S. Air Force from 2000 to 2001.
He converted co-defendants Miguel Santana, 21, of Upland, and Ralph Deleon, 23, of Ontario to radical Islam in 2010, according to the criminal complaint.
According to the complaint, Kabir then left for Afghanistan to make arrangements for the three of them to join the Taliban or Al Qaeda.
Santana is a Mexican national who was in the process of getting his U.S. citizenship. Deleon is a legal permanent resident from the Philippines.
In September 2012, Deleon and Santana recruited defendant Gojali, a U.S. citizen, to join them and travel overseas to commit “violent jihad,” as alleged in the complaint.
Those who know Gojali say he had not graduated from high school, was recently looking for employment and was looking to belong.
The three men had purchased tickets on Nov. 15, and planned to fly from Mexico City to Istanbul.
They were arrested during a traffic stop the next day, two days before their scheduled departure. Kabir was apprehended on Nov. 18 in Kabul.
Federal officials expended “extraordinary resources” to track and stop the defendants, said David Bowdich, special agent in charge of counter-terrorism in Los Angeles, at a news conference.
Undercover FBI operatives began chatting with Santana online in February, and a confidential informant had infiltrated the group by March.
That informant has been on the FBI payroll for more than four years and received $250,000 and “immigration benefits” for his work in apprehending the suspects.
According to the affidavit included in the criminal complaint, he was once convicted of trafficking pseudoephedrine, a chemical precursor to methamphetamine.
Kabir first got to Afghanistan in July 2012 and informed Santana and Deleon that they would join the “students” (the Taliban) and then step up to join the “professors” (Al Qaeda), according to the affidavit.
He said the “brothers would take care of everything.” But by Aug. 31, he was telling them the situation with Al Qaeda was a “little complicated.”
In September, he told them his main priority was now in Yemen, and they asked why they should fly to Afghanistan if that was so.
On Sept. 30, Kabir said there were more complications because the three were coming from the United States.
All the while, the men continued their preparations in California, and the FBI was compiling evidence against them.
After winning their trust, the confidential source spent time with the suspects, joining them in many of their so-called “training exercises” at gun ranges and paint ball facilities.
“The defendants described potential targets for violent attacks, including overseas American military personnel and bases,” said Bill Lewis, of the FBI’s L.A. field office.
“The complaint alleges that the defendants indicated they were willing to kill what they considered to be the enemy, and discussed their preferred roles, including being a sniper or working with explosives,” Lewis said.
Deleon told the informant that he would quit school and withdraw his tuition money to help pay for the trip to Afghanistan, the criminal complaint says.
When the informant asked him at one point how he felt about the possibility of killing someone, Deleon said, “I’ll snipe the guy off. I’m so ready”
Santana told the confidential source said he would like to drive a truck bomb, if he could do it with a big truck.
“Just drive it into like the baddest military base,” he said, according to the document. “If I’m gonna do, I’m gonna do that. I’m gonna take out a whole base.”
His comments, as conveyed in the FBI affidavit, suggest he had no qualms about killing people: “The more I think about it the more it excites me,” he said.
Their conversations with the confidential source also revealed details of their “travel logistics, including flights, passports and visas,” according to the criminal complaint.
As their planned departure neared, they told the informant that they had scrubbed their Facebook sites of jihadist material to avoid detection.
They also devised cover stories for their travel, according to federal authorities.
Deleon and Santana said they would go to Dubai to work in the cologne import-export business. They also arranged to receive a wedding invitation from Pakistan as another cover.
Santana, Gojali and Deleon had their initial appearance before a federal magistrate on Nov. 19 afternoon in U.S. District Court in Riverside.
Santana and Deleon were ordered held without bond pending another hearing on Dec. 3. Gojali’s bail hearing was postponed.
If convicted, the men each face up to 15 years in federal prison.