FBI: Undercover informant helped unveil California terror plot
The charges against four Southern California men accused of plotting to join Al Qaeda and the Taliban and threatening to commit "violent jihad" against Americans appeared to stem largely from the work of an undercover informant working for the FBI.
According to a federal complaint unsealed this week, the informant has been on the FBI payroll for more than four years and has received $250,000 and "immigration benefits" for his work. According to the affidavit included in the criminal complaint, he was once convicted of trafficking pseudoephedrine, a chemical precursor to methamphetamine.
Undercover FBI operatives began chatting with one of the suspects, Upland resident Miguel Alejandro Santana, 21, online in February, and the informant had infiltrated the group by March.
The central figure in the alleged plot is Sohiel Kabir, 34, a native Afghan and naturalized U.S. citizen who has lived in Pomona and served in the U.S. Air Force from 2000 to 2001. He converted Santana and 23-year-old Ontario resident Ralph Deleon to Islam in 2010, then left for Afghanistan to make arrangements for the three of them to join the Taliban or Al Qaeda. (Santana and Deleon subsequently recruited Riverside resident Arifeen David Gojali, 21, in September.)
Kabir was apprehended Saturday in Kabul; the others arrested in Chino on Friday.
Kabir first got to Afghanistan in July 2012 and informed Santana and Deleon that they would join the "students" (the Taliban) and then step up to join the "professors" (Al Qaeda), according to the affidavit. He said the "brothers would take care of everything."
But by Aug. 31, he was telling them the situation with Al Qaeda was a "little complicated." In September, he told them his main priority was now in Yemen, and they asked why they should fly to Afghanistan if that was so. On Sept. 30, Kabir said there were more complications because the three were coming from the United States.
In California, the men kept practicing and planning, trying to get their various immigration problems fixed They scrubbed their Facebook sites of jihadist material to avoid detection.
All the while, the FBI was compiling evidence against them. According the complaint, Santana repeatedly spoke of the violence he would cause: "I wanna do C-4s if I could just put one of these trucks right here.... Just drive it into like the baddest military base.... I'm gonna take out the whole base."
His comments, as conveyed in the FBI affidavit, suggest he had no qualms about killing people: "The more I think about it the more it excites me," he proclaimed. He wanted to go to Afghanistan because it was the most active spot, like "South Central."
While driving home after shooting an M-4 rifle at the range one day, the confidential informant asked the group how Kabir got them to convert. "Santana said that, growing up, he was easily influenced by people," according to the affidavit. "Santana said that he would hear Kabir talk and then 'accepted Islam without knowing anything about it besides it being the truth.' "
Deleon's conversion to Islam was similarly easy, according to the affidavit.
When the informant asked him at one point how he felt about the possibility of killing someone, Deleon said, "I'll snipe the guy off. I'm so ready"
— Phil Willon, Kate Mather and Joe Mozingo