LOS ANGELES, USA – An American and a Filipino national face life in prison after they were found guilty Thursday, September 25, in California of plotting to aid jihadists overseas and to kill US soldiers.
A jury convicted Sohiel Omar Kabir, 36, a naturalized US citizen, and Filipino Ralph de Leon, 25, at the conclusion of a 6-week trial that comes as the United States leads air strikes in Syria and Iraq against Islamic militants. (READ: Pinoy 'terrorist' in solitary confinement in U.S.)
The trial underlined the threat that homegrown extremists pose to the United States.
Deleon was specifically found guilty of conspiring to provide material support to Al-Qaeda, to receive military-type training from the group and to commit murder, kidnapping, or maiming overseas. (READ: PH asks FBI for info on 'foiled terror plot')
"This case shows that the appeal of extremist ideologies can reach from Afghanistan to America," said United States Attorney Stephanie Yonekura after the trial in Riverside County, east of Los Angeles.
This demonstrated "the clear need for continued vigilance in rooting out homegrown violent extremists who plot terrorist acts both here and abroad."
Two co-conspirators – Miguel Alejandro Santana Vidriales and Arifeen David Gojali – had already pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing.
The trial heard evidence that Kabir traveled to Afghanistan in 2012 and encouraged Santana and De Leon to come with him, saying they would all join "the students" -- Taliban militants – and "the professors" – Al-Qaeda.
An undercover FBI agent contacted Santana and De Leon. The latter said he wanted to go abroad to wage "violent jihad," while Santana said he wanted to be a sniper.
In September 2012, De Leon and Santana recruited Gojali to accompany them to Afghanistan.
The 3 undertook preliminary training in southern California at firearms and paintball facilities.
The trio were arrested in November that year as they prepared to drive south to Mexico, en route to Afghanistan.
FBI Los Angeles agent Bill Lewis said: "The threat posed to America's security by individuals within the United States who support terrorists is very real.
"This case demonstrates the process by which individuals living in the United States were groomed and radicalized toward an extremist ideology and, ultimately, planned the murder of American and coalition forces."
Judge Virginia A. Phillips will hand down sentences on February 23.
The verdict comes shortly after President Benigno Aquino III concluded his trip to the United States where he offered his government's help in fighting ISIS, which is also known by the name Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario is set to meet with US State Department officials to discuss this offer, Aquino told reporters in New York on September 23.
“Of course, we want to do something doable and within our capabilities without posing undue risks through their forces or the country at large,” Aquino said. – with reports from Paterno Esmaquel II/Rappler.com