RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — Two California men were sentenced 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-Qaida. A fifth man they believed to be part of their group was an FBI informant who secretly recorded their conversations.
Kabir, 37, a naturalized U.S. 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 U.S. 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 cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki. 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 March 16.
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.
Defense 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 percent" 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."
Defense lawyers blamed the informant, a drug trafficking convict paid $380,000 for his work, for goading the men and paying some expenses.
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.