Four men, including a former member of the U.S. Air Force, have been arrested in southern California and charged with plotting to kill Americans overseas by joining up with al-Qaida to engage in "violent jihad" or Islamic holy war, the FBI said late Monday.
Other charges the men face include plotting to bomb government facilities and conspiracy to kill Americans.
The authorities said Sohiel Omar Kabir, 34, traveled to Afghanistan where he planned to introduce the other suspects to his al-Qaida contacts. Kabir is a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in Afghanistan and served in the U.S. Air Force from 2000 to 2001, according to the Associated Press.
Also arrested were Ralph Deleon, 23, of Ontario, Calif.; Miguel Alejandro Santana Vidriales, 21, of Upland; and Arifeen David Gojali, 21, of Riverside.
If convicted, the men face up to 15 years in prison.
The FBI said in its complaint that Kabir introduced Deleon and Santana to radical Islamic teachings in 2010, including those of al-Qaida leader Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed by a U.S. drone in Yemen in September 2011. The U.S. has said that that al-Awlaki was the inspiration behind a series of attacks and plots against Americans.
NBC's Richard Engel reports on a U.S. drone strike which killed American-born radical cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki in Yemen.
In one conversation with an FBI confidential source, Santana and Deleon discussed their preferred roles when it came to carrying out attacks. Santana stated that he had experience with firearms and that he wanted to become a sniper, while Deleon said he wanted to be on the front line but that his second choice was handling explosives.
Both men also indicated they were willing to kill people they perceived to be enemies.
Training at paintball courses
Deleon is a lawful permanent resident alien who was born in the Philippines, and Santana is a lawful permanent resident who was born in Mexico and has applied to become a U.S. citizen, according to the FBI.
In July 2012, Kabir traveled to Afghanistan, where he continued to communicate with Santana and DeLeon and arrange for their travel to join him there, according to the complaint. Kabir said that he would wait for their arrival before heading to a training location and that they would meet members of the Taliban and al-Qaida when they arrived.
In September 2012, Deleon and Santana recruited Gojali, a U.S. citizen. The three men discussed how to raise funds for a trip to Afghanistan, and how to train and carry out attacks. To prepare for terrorist training overseas, the men started training in southern California at firearms and paintball facilities.
With a power vacuum caused by the current uprising in Yemen -- and the severe wounds suffered by the Yemeni president that have forced him to hospital in neighboring Saudi Arabia -- the U.S. is accelerating its covert operations to eliminate al-Qaida linked operatives in the troubled nation. NBC's Jim Miklaszewski reports.
Santana, Deleon and Gojali were arrested on Friday and then handed over to federal authorities following their hearing in a U.S. district court in Riverside, Calif., on Monday afternoon. Gojali's hearing will be continued on Nov. 26. Kabir is in custody in Afghanistan, the FBI said.
Since the Sept. 11 2001 attacks, the U.S. government has stepped up surveillance efforts to catch both domestic and foreign militants, but has repeatedly warned that such groups continue to pose a threat.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
More world stories from NBC News:
- Too much democracy? Apathy triumphs in UK's latest election
- Obama's visit a sign of Myanmar's dizzying pace of change
- Key players in the Israel-Gaza cross-border conflict
- French girl found tied up - but alive - in trunk after routine traffic stop
- Mexican company Bimbo may be eyeing Twinkies