al-Qaeda in the IE?
By Jesse B. Gill
Since Sept. 11, 2001, none of us (and by us, we mean Americans) have been immune from being hyper-aware, in one way or the other, of the threat—real or imagined—by Islamic terrorists. But it’s been difficult to believe that such terrorists—real or imagined—would have anything to do with the Inland Empire.
Four guys, all from the Inland Empire, arrested by FBI agents and accused of conspiracy to commit terrorism (and by terrorism, we mean the big dogs—al-Qaeda and the Taliban). Officially, they were charged by federal prosecutors with the violation of Title 18 of the United States Code—a conspiracy to kill, kidnap or injure persons and damage property in a foreign country.
And that’s about as accurate as you can get when describing what the feds say these four Inland Empire men planned to do: to carry out attacks on U.S. military personnel and targets overseas.
Here are their names: Soheil Omar Kabir, 34, formerly of Pomona, a U.S. citizen born in Afghanistan. Ralph Kenneth Deleon, 23, of Ontario, a lawful alien, born in the Philippines. Miguel Alejandro Santana Vidriales (the feds refer to him as Santana, so for all intents and purposes, we will too), 21, of Upland, born in Mexico with a pending application for citizenship which, after the events of last week, doesn’t look super promising. Finally, there’s Arifeen David Gojali, 21, of Riverside, a U.S. citizen.
FBI agents arrested Deleon, Santana and Gojali Nov. 16 during a traffic stop on Marshall Avenue in Chino. Federal prosecutors say they bought tickets a day earlier to fly from Mexico to Afghanistan. There, they (allegedly) planned to meet Kabir, who was (allegedly) getting everything set up for them to join up as terrorists once they arrived.
All three are being held without bail in federal custody at Central Detention Center in San Bernardino. Kabir is in custody in Afghanistan awaiting extradition to the U.S., according to FBI officials.
And it’s not exactly accurate to say these gents wanted to do their terrorizin‘ in the IE. There’s really nothing in the FBI-released information to suggest anything of the sort. Still, they were all from here, which, to some, has to be at least a little unnerving.
After the arrests, the feds released a detailed criminal complaint, the contents of which showed up on newscasts across the country. In that complaint, prosecutors allege that Kabir was the ringleader, exposing the other three to “radical and violent Islamic doctrine.” He used social media and the Internet as his main conduit to funnel al-Qaeda materials into the hands of the other three.
And just like anything else, once they involved social media, everything got all fouled up.
According to the complaint, DeLeon and Santana spilled their plans to someone referred to only as a confidential FBI source. The two allegedly gave details on potential targets for violent attacks and the roles they wanted to play when and if they graduated from terrorizin‘ school.
When the confidential source asked Deleon if he’d be able to kill an enemy if called upon, he said he’d “”blow his (the enemy’s) brains out and send him to Jahannam (Arabic for Hell).”
Complicating the case is the fact that the confidential FBI information was paid $250,000 by the FBI for his efforts and at least Delon’s lawyer is now crying foul, claiming the financial incentive gave the informant sufficient motivation to entrap his client.
But if the feds have all of the electronic evidence they claim to have, it will be tough for defense attorneys to prove that their clients were drawn into this mess by an informant and not truly passionate about attacking U.S. military targets overseas.
If all four of these (alleged) wannabe terrorists are convicted on all charges against them, they could face a maximum of 15 years in federal prison. Seems steep, but times have changed.
There was a time in this country where the actions of at least Gojali (a U.S. citizen) and Kabir (a citizen and veteran of the U.S. Air Force) could be seen as treason—an offense punishable by death in the worst cases.
Gojali is expected in court today for a bond hearing, where his lawyer will likely argue that his client isn’t a flight risk—another tough case to make since Gojali was allegedly getting ready to leave the country at the time of his arrest.
After that, the suspects are due back in court Dec. 3 for a preliminary hearing and an arraignment on Dec. 5.
Contact Jesse B. Gill at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @IEW_WatchDog.