Filipino indicted in California for terror plot
LOS ANGELES—A 23-year-old Filipino-American and two other Southern California residents have been indicted on terrorism-related charges in federal court.
A federal grand jury indicted Ralph de Leon of Ontario, Miguel Alejandro Santana Vidriales, 21, of Upland and Arifeen David Gojali, 21, of Riverside on charges of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists.
The indictment, filed in the United States District Court in Riverside on Nov. 28, accused the men of trying to join the international terrorist group al-Qaida, plotting to kill Americans overseas and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction outside of the country.
If convicted, they each could face up to 15 years in prison.
De Leon’s lawyer, Randolph K. Driggs, told the Inquirer there was “nothing new (in the indictment) … nothing that you and I don’t already know and that are not on the charge sheet.”
Driggs also said he has not received any new information from law enforcement agencies regarding the case. “Nobody’s talking to anybody right now,” said Driggs, who declined to comment on his next steps. He said the arraignment in federal court is scheduled on Dec. 5.
De Leon was scheduled to appear before a federal judge on Monday, Dec. 3, but that preliminary hearing will likely be vacated because of the indictment, Driggs told the Inquirer.
With the indictment, federal prosecutors will no longer have to prove the validity of the government’s allegations against De Leon and the two other suspects in the preliminary hearing.
A grand jury of 12 to 23 persons was convened in a private session to evaluate accusations against the three suspects and determine whether the evidence warrants an indictment.
Consul Charmaine Chua, who has been assigned by Consul General Hellen Barber-Dela Vega to monitor De Leon’s case, said she remains in contact with Driggs and will attend the arraignment.
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) spokesperson Laura Eimiller and the officials of the US Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the indictment.
Driggs has earlier criticized the case for hinging on a confidential informant with a criminal record who had an incentive to entrap the suspects.
The Los Angeles Times reported that the informant, who received $250,000 from the FBI and “immigration benefits” for his work over four and a half years, infiltrated the group in March and wore recording devices that provided evidence reportedly crucial to the case.
The federal complaint unsealed last week against the three men was based largely on incriminating statements and actions recorded and observed by the informant.
Driggs also said the FBI and other law enforcement agencies have aggressively pursued potential threats given the nation’s concerns about protecting the country from terrorist attacks following Sept. 11.
“There’s a political will to seek it out more aggressively, and that can cause problems,” Driggs said.
De Leon, who was born in the Philippines, and the two other suspects were arrested during a traffic stop in Chino over a week ago, a day after they booked airline tickets from Mexico to Afghanistan.
Vidriales is a Mexican national who was in the process of getting his US citizenship. De Leon is a legal permanent resident from the Philippines. Gojali is an American of Vietnamese descent.
The three men allegedly planned to join Sohiel Omar Kabir, 34, of Pomona, who had already traveled to Afghanistan and was arranging contacts with the terrorist organization.
Kabir, a native of Afghanistan who served in the Air Force from 2000 to 2001, was arrested Nov. 16 in Afghanistan by the FBI and Army Special Forces.
The ongoing investigation is being conducted by the Riverside-based Joint Terrorism Task Force, which is made up of members from the Riverside and San Bernardino County sheriff’s departments; the Riverside, Beaumont and Ontario police departments; US Immigration and Customs Enforcement; the US Attorney’s Office; and the FBI.
According to the indictment, most of the planning and meetings between the defendants took place in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties.