US men sentenced to 25 years for terror plot
24 February 2015, 08:20
Riverside - Two California men were
sentenced on Monday to 25 years in prison for conspiring to support terrorists
and kill Americans overseas, federal prosecutors said.
Sohiel Omar Kabir and Ralph Deleon were
convicted in September after prosecutors showed they were disciples of radical
Islam who had rounded up two other men to train with the Taliban and eventually
graduate to the ranks of al-Qaeda. A fifth man they believed to be part of
their group was an FBI informant who secretly recorded their conversations.
Kabir, 37, a naturalised US citizen born in
Afghanistan, was the ringleader and made arrangements for Deleon and the others
to join him in his native country, prosecutors said. Deleon, 26, a citizen of
the Philippines who was a lawful permanent US resident, got the other men in
shape, took them for target shooting practice with AK-47 assault rifles and
prepared for combat by playing paintball.
"The defendants betrayed the citizens
of the United States by supporting terror and conspiring to murder military
members serving overseas," said David Bowdich, the FBI's assistant
director in Los Angeles.
Kabir had converted Deleon and Miguel
Santana Vidriales to Islam after meeting them at a hookah bar and introduced
them to the radical Islamic teaching of American-born cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki,
who was killed by a drone strike in Yemen. Deleon later recruited Arifeen David
Gojali to the group.
Santana and Gojali pleaded guilty to
conspiracy counts and cooperated with prosecutors. They are scheduled to be
sentenced 16 March.
The FBI began tracking the group after
Santana returned from visiting his mother in Mexico in 2012 with a copy of a
jihadist magazine in his possession.
Defence lawyers portrayed Kabir and Deleon
as harmless pot smokers full of hot air when discussing the plans, but
prosecutors said the men were intent on the plot that was halted as they
prepared to head to the Middle East.
Deleon dropped out of college, got a
tuition refund and sold his car to help finance the travel.
He told the informant he was devoting
"99.9%" of his prayers to becoming a martyr and told a friend he
wanted to die in a drone strike, according to court papers. Asked how he felt
about killing someone, he said: "Man, I, I am so ready."
Defence lawyers blamed the informant, a drug
trafficking convict paid $380 000 for his work, for goading the men and paying
Deleon and the two others were arrested in
2012 as they headed to Mexico to catch a flight to the Middle East. Kabir was
later arrested in Afghanistan.