Fil-Am accused of joining terrorist group
|A copy of the criminal complaint against the four alleged terrorists|
LOS ANGELES - The Federal Bureau Investigation (FBI) said they foiled three so-called home-grown terrorists from fleeing the US and joining a terror group in Afghanistan.
One of them is 23-year old Philippine-born Ralph Kenneth De Leon who also went by the aliases Rafiq Abdul Raheem and Ya Seen.
Investigators claim that as early as the summer of 2010 De Leon, and Mexico-born Miguel Santana and a Vietnamese-American Arifeen David Gojali had been conspiring to join the Taliban and do violent acts of jihad.
“Anytime that you individuals here in the United States that are conspiring to go overseas to commit violent crimes against American members of the United States military, be it civilian contractors or naturalized people that are over there working, we think that is extremely serious,” said Los Angeles FBI Assistant Director Bill Lewis.
“It's definitely a concern. This was a valid--what we consider an HGE--a valid homegrown violent extremist network. We took this very, very seriously and all our steps show that as we went thru this case,” said FBI Special Agent David Bowdich.
Authorities have not release much details on De Leon, who reportedly withdrew from California State University Riverside, or the other suspects’ background, but according to the affidavit, De Leon and Santana had met a 4th suspect and alleged ring leader who recruited the two, Sohiel Omar Kabir at a local Hookah bar.
According to conversations with a secret agent whom they had befriended, the three suspected aspiring terrorists were inspired by the late Anwar Al-Awlaqi and strongly believed in what the Islamic religion stood for.
The agent said De Leon and Santana would talk about why they should join Al Qaeda and talk about places worth of fighting, including Afghanistan, against the Americans and United Nations as well the Abu Sayyaf's fight in the Philippines.
“They were all young men if you notice their ethnicities were all from a variety of background and they all had one common cause and one common goal,” said Bowdich.
“Its a path towards radicalization if you look anwar a lot, admiration if you will, there were review of his tapes, his messages, his lessons there was an extensive amount of their admiration for him and quite frankly idealizing he were alive,” he added.
In the affidavit, investigators claim that De Leon, Gojali and Santana had been physically training to join the Taliban so they can carry out jihad.
They would run, hike, and practice weapons with paintball, and shooting ranges. They had gone as far as getting passports, planning their trips and raising money.
De Leon had gone as far as trying to sell his car, telling buyers on Craigslist that he was leaving the country.
“Don't underestimate these groups they took definitive steps, when you read that complaint they took very definitive steps to accomplish their plan and their mission was definitely detrimental to harm the safety of our troops overseas and quite frankly, coalition forces as well,” added Bowdich.
They had planned to depart for Afghanistan last weekend, just days before the FBI’s Joint Terrorist Task Force had arrested them while they were in their vehicle at an apartment complex in Chino, California.
“We were on them very early on we had kept very close tabs on these individuals and tried to develop, build our case over time and ultimately I think we were successful in preempting them in doing harm to our forces overseas,” said Bowdich.
The three men have been in federal custody since their arrest.
In the meantime, Kabir, who had been in Afghanistan preparing for the arrival of De Leon, Santana and Gojali, has been arrested in Afghanistan and is scheduled to appear in court next week.
The FBI said as of now, there is no local terror threat in Southern California connected to this case, and the case is still under investigation. De Leon, along with the two other terror suspects he was apprehended with, are due for a court appearance in early December.
If convicted, they face maximum prison sentences of 15 years each.