A Riverside resident was one of four men charged with conspiracy to provide material support to Al-Qai’da and the Taliban in order to target American troops in Afghanistan on Nov. 26.
Arifeen David Gojali, a 21-year-old US citizen of Riverside and two other men were arrested in Chino by FBI agents just a few days before boarding a plane that would take them to Afghanistan. The three men were planning to meet with ringleader, Sohiel Omar Kabir, 34, in Afghanistan to carry out the plot.
Deemed a flight risk by Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym, Gojali was denied bail at a brief bond hearing in U.S. District Court. The other two suspects, Ralph Deleon of Ontario and Miguel Santana of Upland, were also held without bond in their respective court appearances. They are all currently being held in the federal wing of the Central Detention Center of San Bernardino.
“We were on them for quite a while,” FBI Special Agent David Bowdich said in a press release. The authorities were first aware of the group after border officials notified them of Santana crossing into the U.S. from Mexico carrying extremist-Islamic propaganda. Eventually an undercover FBI agent infiltrated the group, relaying information that was vital in the the agency’s effort in arresting the suspects.
The four men had trained for months in preparation for the planned attacks. A few of the suspects had gone to shooting ranges and paintball facilities, located in Riverside County, in order to become familiar with the weaponry that would be used in the assaults.
According to the 77-page criminal complaint by the FBI, Kabir first contacted Santa and Deleon, converting them to Islam and “introducing them to radical and violent Islamic doctrine.” Kabir later met with Gojali who had shown interest in going with the suspects to Afghanistan. In their meeting, Kabir asked Gojali, “Do you have it in you, fighting for fisabilillah, killing?”
Gojali responded, “Yeah, of course.”
UCR Assistant Professor of Religious Studies Muhamad Ali shared his expertise on extremist Islamic beliefs in a press release. “They’re very easily indoctrinated. Early conversion is fragile and prone to manipulation,” he said.
UCR students responded to the news with relief after learning that the suspects were residents of the Inland Empire.
“I guess it’s comforting that this is the first time I’m ever hearing about a local person being a terrorist,” said UCR undergraduate Alex Hill. “That means that it’s pretty rare. There hasn’t been a successful attack since 9/11. So that’s a good sign. That means that things like the Patriot Act are kind of validated by that. These kinds of instances where they catch terrorist validates those controversial policies.”
Assistant Director of the FBI in the Los Angeles Field Office Bill Lewis stated, “Anytime that you have individuals here in the United States that are conspiring to go overseas to commit violent acts against members of the United States military… we think that is extremely serious.”
Agent Bowdich also commented on the existing dangers that lurk within local communities. “Our message to them is that there is no threat locally-based around this case that we are aware of,” said Bowdich. “This was an out-of-the-continental US threat.”
If convicted, the men face up to 15 years in federal prison.