By Kimi Yoshino and Robert Lopez, Los Angeles Times –
LOS ANGELES — The four men with ties to Southern California who have been charged in an alleged terror plot to commit “violent jihad” were arrested after a months-long undercover operation that included a confidential informant and covert online FBI agents.
A complaint unsealed Monday in U.S. District Court in Riverside, Calif., detailed some of the specifics of the plot, which resulted in the arrests of the four men: former Pomona, Calif., resident Sohiel Omar Kabir, 34; Ontario, Calif., resident Ralph Deleon, 23; Upland, Calif., resident Miguel Alejandro Santana, 21; and Riverside resident Arifeen David Gojali, 21.
Kabir allegedly left the United States last year and traveled to Afghanistan in July to set up terrorist training with al-Qaida and Taliban members, according to the complaint. He is also accused of converting Deleon and Santana to “radical and violent Islamic doctrine.”
Santana and Kabir allegedly posted terrorist audio and video files on Facebook pages and communicated via Skype when Kabir was overseas, federal authorities said in the complaint.
Over the course of the past several months, Deleon, Santana and Gojali made numerous plans to join Kabir, according to the 77-page complaint, which lays out a portrait of young men dedicated to their beliefs — and willing to kill for them.
Deleon said he had thought about killing and “wouldn’t have a problem if it’s, it’s for Allah.”
“The more I think about it, the more it excites me,” Santana said.
Over the past several months, they tried to come up with money for travel and made plans to ask family for cash and sell cars, authorities said.
Deleon listed his car on Craigslist in October, with a note that said: “Getting rid of it because I’m leaving the country (A.S.A.P) Need money fast.”
They began exercising to get in shape — playing paintball and running. They discussed hiking to get used to the terrain they would encounter overseas, the complaint said. Deleon planned to skydive so he could understand how his body reacts to fear.
The four also left an extensive social media footprint. They uploaded radical Islamist videos on their Facebook pages, authorities said. One video uploaded by Kabir depicted a suicide bombing.
But as they neared their planned departure, the men told the confidential informant that they had deleted everything associated with Islam from their Facebook pages.
“They said they had done this to keep a low profile in anticipation of their trip overseas,” the complaint said.
They also changed their pages to reflect their real names rather than their Islamic “vanity” names “Ya Seen” and “rafiqabdulraheem.”
The men devised a cover story for their travel. Deleon and Santana said they would go to Dubai to work in the cologne import-export business. They also planned to receive a wedding invitation from Pakistan to use as another cover.
On Thursday, the men purchased their tickets and planned to fly from Mexico City to Istanbul. They were arrested Friday, one day after booking their flights and two days before they were scheduled to depart.
The investigation is ongoing, officials said. If convicted, the men face up to 15 years in federal prison.