Four Southern California men were arrested Tuesday in a plot to attack American targets overseas. The men sought to join al-Qaida and the Taliban, and wage jihadi attacks on U.S. military bases and personnel in Afghanistan. The arrests were announced by Andre 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.
In 2010, the plot's ringleader, Soheil Omar Kabir, introduced two of the defendants, Ralph Deleon and Miguel Alejandro Santana Vidriales, to radical and violent Islam through postings on the social media website Facebook. Kabir posted lectures and essays of now deceased al-Qaida leader in the Arabian Peninsula, Anwar Al-Awlaki. Awlaki has been an inspiration for several terror plots in the U.S., including the November 2009 attacks on the Fort Hood military base in Texas that killed 13 people and wounded 30 others.
In addition, Kabir posted videos depicting mujahideen fighters in Afghanistan and elsewhere as well as martyrdom operations carried out by al-Qaida and Taliban against U.S. military bases in Afghanistan. In July 2012, Kabir posted a video entitled "Knights of Khorasan Islamic Emirate Martyrdom Operation Against an Army Base in Margha." The video bore the symbol of al-Qaida's media wing, As-Shabab.
According to the complaint, another video titled, "Dua of Sheikh Muhammad al Mohaisany masjid al haram makkah," featured photos of "Al-Qaida leaders Usama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri, 9/11 attacks, bloodied adults and children, and Islamic fighters."
Kabir "shared" his Facebook postings with Deleon and Santana who, in turn, "liked" and commented on several of the postings. Kabir traveled to Afghanistan both in December 2011 and July 2012 to attend terrorist training camps run by the Taliban and al-Qaida. While in Afghanistan, Kabir communicated with Deleon and Vidriales about making arrangements for them to join him there. He told them that once they arrive in Afghanistan he would travel with them to meet "the students" and "the professors". The complaint said the terms "students" and "professors" were keywords for the Taliban and al-Qaida.
Santana and DeLeon confided to an FBI informant that they planned to travel to Afghanistan to wage "violent jihad." The defendants also identified potential targets for attacks, including U.S. military personnel and Army bases. The defendants said they would use firearms and explosives to carry out the attacks.
In conversations with the informant, Gojali justified his intent to launch jihadi attacks against American targets in Afghanistan. Gojali allegedly told the informant, "You know I watch videos on the Internet and I see what they are doing to our brothers and sisters, Walahi man, like it makes me cry and it gets like, I'm like so angered with them you know, we are paying what taxes for them so they can build arms and weapons to go train their soldiers and go through our country and do that to our brothers and sister you know."
In September 2012, a fourth defendant, Arifeen David Gojali, was recruited to the group. Santana, DeLeon, and Gojali made travel arrangements to Afghanistan to join Kabir. In addition to raising funds to travel to Afghanistan, the men discussed stories and code words they would use as a cover up for their jihadi plans when traveling. The men also conducted preliminary paintball and firearms training at a shooting range in Los Angeles in preparation for their terrorist training overseas.
The men face 15 years in federal prison if convicted.