Four men with ties to the Inland Empire used Facebook, Skype, aliases and codewords in their alleged plot to join Al-Qai'da and the Taliban in Afghanistan in order to kill, among others, American targets, according to a 77-page complaint authored by an FBI special agent based in Riverside.
Details that emerge from the complaint include the young men's eagerness to practice shooting firearms, talk of hiking to prepare for terrain overseas, and visits to a Corona paintball facility for more "training" for jihad - violent combat.
Asked how it would feel to kill someone in jihad, one of the defendants, from Ontario, allegedly said he "wouldn't have a problem if it's, it's for Allah."
The defendant from Upland also said he would not have a problem with it and added "The more I think about it the more it excites me," according to the complaint.
The FBI relied on a confidential informant and covert online employees to build their case against the defendants, who were identified Monday as:
• 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, 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.
Santana, Deleon and Gojali were apprehended Friday Nov. 16 by Joint Terrorism Task Force personnel and made their initial appearance Nov. 19 in U.S. District Court in Riverside, according to the FBI. Kabir was in custody in Afghanistan.
The complaint detailing the defendants' alleged plot was authored by Special Agent N.T. Elias, a member of the Riverside Joint Terrorism Task Force. A pdf copy of the complaint is attached to this report.
According to the complaint, beginning in August 2010, the defendants began conspiring to provide material support and resources in preparation for carrying out crimes of terrorism including conspiracy to kill, kidnap, maim or injure people, including U.S. military personnel in foreign countries, and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction, and bombing public places and facilities.
Kabir influenced Santana and Deleon to convert to Islam in 2010 and introduced them to radical and violent Islamic doctrine, according to the complaint.
Kabir directed them to materials featuring influential Anwar Al-Awlaqi, Al-Qai'da of the Arabian Peninsula spokesman, and continued posting radical content to social media sites, according to the complaint.
In December 2011 Kabir left the U.S. for Germany, then traveled to Afghanistan in July 2012, according to the complaint. Once in Afghanistan, Kabir communicated with Santana and Deleon online and urged them to come join him. He informed them he had arranged for their arrival, and once they were in Afghanistan they would first join "the students" - the Taliban - and then "the professors" - Al-Qai'da.
Meanwhile in Southern California, Santana and Deleon told an FBI informant they intended to go to Afghanistan and "engage in violent jihad and that they had planned to do so since the time Kabir converted them to Islam," the complaint states.
Santana and Deleon told the informant about their preferred roles: Santana said he had experience with firearms, including AK-47s, and he wanted to become a sniper, according to the complaint.
Deleon said be wanted to "be on the front lines and that his second choice would be explosives," the complaint states.
July 11, 2012, the informant took Santana to the Mexican Consulate in San Bernardino to update his passport and Santana said he'd used Skype to speak with Kabir three days earlier, according to the complaint.
On July 18, Santana, Deleon and the informant met at Deleon's home. The informant asked them if they had thought about how it would feel to kill someone, according to the complaint.
Deleon allegedly said he "wouldn't have a problem if it's, it's for Allah."
Santana said he would not have a problem with it and "The more I think about it the more it excites me," according to the complaint.
On Aug. 8, Deleon told the informant about a recent Skype session with Santana and Kabir. Kabir appeared to be with a sheikh or imam and said he was living in Kabul, Afghansitan, near a mosque. Kabir told Deleon and Santana they should come to Afghanistan at any time and "the brothers would take care of everything," according to the complaint.
On Sept. 18, the men met with the informant again and discussed their plans to go to Afghanistan, according to the complaint. Kabir had suggested the night before during a Skype session they travel from Mexico to Germany to the United Arab Emirates to Afghanistan.
Deleon said they needed to start hiking to get used to the terrain they would encounter overseas, according to the complaint. Deleon said he was planning to go skydiving to learn how his body reacts to fear. Deleon also said he wanted to return to a paintball facility he had visited recently, because it would be good training for violent jihad.
On Sept. 20, Deleon, Santana and the informant visited a shooting range in the Los Angeles area. As they were driving away from the range, the informant asked about their conversion and "what techniques" Kabir used "to get you and to become a Muslim and leave all, you know, leave all this . . . to become a future, ya know, or potential mujahid," the complaint states.
Deleon said when he first met Kabir all he talked about was truth and religion, and he was "basically a mujahid walking the streets of LA. He was just waiting to get his papers. And I met him at the point of his life where he was about to go. He was already a mujahideen walking around," the complaint states.
On Sept. 23, Deleon, Santana, Gojali, the informant and other unidentified individuals went to a paintball facility in Corona. They rented paintball guns that resembled assault rifles, and Santana said "he chose that type of weapon so he could get used to the weight," the complaint states.
In anticipation for their trip overseas, Deleon and Santana deleted everything associated with Islam from their Facebook accounts. Deleon told the informant he and Santana had a cover story for their travel - that they were going to Dubai to work in the cologne import-export business, according to the complaint.
On Oct. 17, Deleon listed his car for sale on Craigslist, stating "Getting rid of it because I'm leaving the country (A.S.A.P.) Need money fast," the complaint states.
On Oct. 27, Western Union records showed Deleon wired $200 from Ontario to Kabir in Kabul, Afghanistan, according to the complaint.
On Nov. 15, Deleon went online to purchase airline tickets for himself, Santana, Gojali and the informant to fly from Mexico City to Istanbul on Nov. 18.
Based on the evidence, the FBI believed there was probable cause to charge Kabir, Deleon, Santana and Gojali with conspiring 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.
Santana and Deleon were remanded to federal custody Monday and Gojali's detention hearing was continued to Monday Nov. 26. If convicted, the defendants face a maximum of 15 years in federal prison, according to the FBI.
The case is a continuing investigation by the Joint Terrorism Task Force in Riverside, which includes personnel from the Riverside County Sheriff's Department, Riverside Police, San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department, Beaumont Police, Ontario Police, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement – Homeland Security Investigations, the U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI.
The case will be prosecuted by the United States Attorney's Office for the Central District of California, with assistance from the Counterterrorism Section of the Justice Department's National Security Division.