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Grand jury indicts Inland Empire terrorism suspects

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A federal grand jury indicted three Inland Empire men who were arrested  last week  on charges of plotting to join Al Qaeda and attack American troops overseas.

The indictment, filed in U.S. District Court in Riverside on Wednesday, accused the men of trying to kill federal employees and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction outside of the United States.

Ralph Deleon, 24, of Ontario; Miguel Santana, 21, of Upland; and Arifeen Gojali, 21, of Riverside were taken into custody by federal agents during a vehicle stop in Chino on Nov. 16, a day after they booked airline tickets from Mexico to Afghanistan.  All three are being held without bail and face up to 15 years in federal prison if convicted.

According to a federal affidavit, the ringleader of the group was Sohiel Omar Kabir, 34, who had lived in Pomona and served a year in the U.S. Air Force. The native Afghan is naturalized U.S. citizen who converted Deleon and Santana to Islam in 2010, then left for Afghanistan, intent on joining the Taliban or Al Qaeda and paving the way for Santana and Deleon to join him.  Deleon and Santana later recruited Gojali.

Kabir was taken into custody in Afghanistan on Nov. 17.

Deleon’s attorney, Randolph K. Driggs, last week criticized the federal government for basing its case on evidence gathered by a paid confidential informant who had been convicted on drug-related charges. The informant received $250,000 from the FBI and "immigration benefits" for his work over four years. He infiltrated the group in March and wore recording devices that provided crucial evidence in the case.

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--Phil Willon in Riverside

Photo: FBI investigators outside the home of Upland resident Miguel Santana on Nov. 16  in a photo taken by an area resident. Source: Los Angeles Times.

 
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