Update: The FBI held a press conference this afternoon in Los Angeles, with agents saying the law enforcement agency devoted “extraordinary resources” to thwarting the alleged terrorists. More after the jump.
It's a familiar story. Boy meets extremist. Boy converts to radical Islam. Boy “likes” jihadi videos on Facebook. Boy shares dreams of violent jihad with FBI informant. Boy goes to jail.
In this case, the FBI has arrested four defendants from Southern California who are accused of plotting terrorist attacks in Afghanistan. The complaint (posted below) alleges that Soheil Omar Kabir, a 34-year-old Air Force veteran, introduced two younger men, Ralph Deleon, 23, and Miguel Santana, 21, to the teachings of Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S.-born cleric who was killed in a drone strike in Yemen.
They in turn are alleged to have recruited a fourth defendant, Arifeen Gojali, 21, into a plan to travel to Afghanistan to join Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
Over the course of several months, Santana, of Upland, and Deleon, of Ontario, are alleged to have conveyed their plans to an FBI informant.
For instance, while at a shooting range, Santana told the informant that he wanted to blow up a military installation, according to the complaint.
“I wanna do C-4s, if I could just put one of these trucks right here, with that,” Santana said, indicating a tractor-trailer. “Just drive it into the baddest military base… If I'm gonna do, I'm gonna do that, I'm gonna take out a whole base. Might as well make it like, big, ya know.”
On another occasion, Santana likened Afghanistan to “South Central,” saying he wanted to go there because it was the most active spot. He also said, at one point, that he wanted to be a sniper, and that he had tried to construct an “oxide-peroxide thing, or whatever” based on an article in an Al-Qaeda publication titled, “How to Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom.”
The complaint also states that the informant took long road trips with Deleon and Santana, during which they played lectures from Awlaki.
Deleon and Santana told the informant that they met Kabir, who lived in Pomona, at a hookah bar. Deleon described Kabir to the informant as “basically a mujahid walking the streets of L.A.” Kabir, who was born in Afghanistan but naturalized as a U.S. citizen, introduced them to Awlaki's teachings, according to the complaint.
Kabir is alleged to have dissuaded Santana from joining the U.S. military, saying, “If you're going to join anything, join the other side, because that's the side where they're actually fighting for something.”
The informant, a convicted pseudoephedrine dealer who has been paid $250,000 for his work for the FBI, went to a paintball facility in Corona in September with Santana, Deleon and Gojali. During a break, the informant remarked that they seemed to be rushing their opponents while the other side stayed back. According to the complaint, Gojali said they were “trying to get shaheed” — a reference to martyrdom.
Kabir traveled to Afghanistan in the summer, and recently encouraged the others to join him there to meet up with the Taliban. According to the complaint, the others made travel arrangements and worked to obtain visas to enter Afghanistan.
The FBI also tracked the suspects activity on social media, noting when they uploaded and “liked” extremist videos. An undercover agent also entered into a discussion with Santana on a jihadi website, and got him to repeat an Al Qaeda pledge.
Deleon, Santana and Gojali were arrested on Friday and accused of providing material support to terrorists. They made their first appearance in federal court in Riverside on Monday. Kabir is also in custody.
Update, 4 p.m.: This afternoon at a press conference at the federal building in Westwood, Assistant Director of the FBI's Los Angeles Field Office Bill Lewis and Special Agent in Charge of the Counterterrorism Division in Los Angeles David Bowdich said the law enforcement agency took the alleged terrorist plot very seriously, according to reports by KPCC and the Associated Press.
Lewis and Bowdich said that the four suspects were part of a homegrown terror network and wanted to harm U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan.
Just like L.A. itself, the FBI said that the network was very multi-ethnic, with suspects being Vietnamese, Mexican, Filipino, and Afghani. The agents said there was no threat of local terrorist targets involving these men.
All the details are below: