RIVERSIDE – The Filipino-American accused of being involved in a plot to join Al-Qaeda insurgents for military training in Afghanistan appeared in federal court for the first time, with his fellow defendants on Wednesday, December 19, to plead not guilty on charges of conspiracy to support terrorists.
Ralph Deleon, a 23-year-old permanent resident from Ontario, CA, is among the four men accused of planning to unleash ‘violent jihad’ against US armed forces and other Americans abroad, in a criminal case based on intelligence gathered from a paid FBI informant.
Other defendants include Pomona resident Sohiel Omar Kabir, Riverside resident Arifeen David Gojali, and Upland resident Miguel Alejandro Santana Vidriales.
The 35-year-old Kabir is the alleged ringleader of the group. He was captured in Afghanistan on November 17, a day after the three other men were arrested by federal agents in Chino, California.
According to the criminal complaint filed by the FBI, Kabir recruited two co-conspirators Deleon and Santana who were to join him in training under Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. The FBI said that the two men were influenced by Kabir to convert to Islam before he flew abroad in 2011. The pair, in turn, allegedly recruited the fourth man, Gojali, to complete the group.
The FBI’s complaint alleged that Deleon and Santana divulged to an FBI informant their plans to travel to Afghanistan to carry out ‘violent jihad’ on American targets. Deleon was quoted by the informant, saying that he wanted to fight in the front lines or carry explosives. Santana allegedly wanted to become a sniper.
The three co-conspirators were captured by authorities two days before their allegedly planned flight from Mexico, to join Kabir overseas.
Each of the four men is charged with a single count of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists. The maximum penalty is 15 years of jail time.
In a hearing in early December (in Riverside County that lasted no more than five minutes) all four defendants pleaded not guilty on charges held against them. A tentative trial date was then set for August 2013.
In the meantime, the Philippine Consulate General in Los Angeles has declined to make any comment on the case of Deleon, as they were still awaiting further developments on the matter.
A big part of the FBI’s case relies heavily on conversations recorded or recounted second hand by a paid FBI informant, a convicted drug dealer.
The defense counsel have raised their argument against the prosecution, saying that the four alleged conspirators were entrapped by the FBI by using a paid informant.
Kabir was captured in a military raid in Kabul that involved US and Afghan military troops. The Pentagon reported that Kabir put up ‘fierce physical resistance, including an attempt to grab grenades and to seize other weapons from his captors.
In the ensuing confrontation, the captive suffered a fractured eye socket, facial lacerations, and other injuries. The defense contended that because of the injuries from the altercation, Kabir was left with memory problems, distorted vision, and difficulty keeping his balance, along with a previous diagnosis of epilepsy and separate medical issues that arose from a previous car accident.
The FBI say that Kabir is a naturalized US citizen born in Afghanistan, and lived in Pomona, California. With reports from Joseph Pimentel / AJPress and wires