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3 Calif. men charged in alleged terror plot

Pomona, Calif., residents talked about their neighbor, Sohiel Omar Kabir, who was arrested in a terrorism plot.

Nick Ut/Associated Press

Pomona, Calif., residents talked about their neighbor, Sohiel Omar Kabir, who was arrested in a terrorism plot.

LOS ANGELES — Three California men excited at the prospect of training in Afghanistan to become terrorists prepared, authorities say, by simulating combat with paintball rifles, wiping their Facebook profiles of any Islamic references, and concocting cover stories.

Just two days before they were going to board a plane bound for Istanbul — and then onto Afghanistan — FBI agents thwarted plans that officials said included killing Americans and bombing US military bases overseas.

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The arrests last week in the United States and of the man said to be the ringleader, 34-year-old American Sohiel Omar Kabir, in Afghanistan were laid out in a 77-page affidavit, which included references to the group’s online video conversations and audio recordings.

While authorities don’t ­believe there were any plans for an attack in the United States, Kabir had intended to go on a suicide mission earlier this month but got sick, according to the court documents ­unsealed in federal court Monday.

Kabir indicated he would wait for the group, which included a confidential FBI informant, before staging an attack, according to the affidavit.

Along with Kabir, Ralph ­Deleon, Miguel Alejandro ­Santana Vidriales, and Arifeen David Gojali are facing charges of providing material support to terrorists.

The charges can carry a maximum 15-year prison sentence, if they are convicted.

Defense attorneys did not immediately return calls for comment.

Federal investigators said Kabir introduced Deleon and Vidriales to the radical Islamist doctrine of the US-born extremist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed last year in an American airstrike in Yemen.

Kabir, a naturalized US citizen from Afghanistan, served in the Air Force from 2000 to 2001, helping to prepare forces for deployment. He was administratively separated for unknown reasons and was given an honorable discharge, the military said.

According to the court documents, Deleon said meeting Kabir was like encountering someone from the camps run by al-Awlaki or Osama bin Laden, who was killed in a US raid last year on his compound in Pakistan.

Kabir was ‘‘basically a mujahid walking the streets of LA,’’ Deleon said, using the term for holy warrior, according to court documents. ‘‘He was just waiting to get his papers. And I met him at the point of his life where he was about to go.’’

Authorities said that in video calls from Afghanistan, ­Kabir told the trio he would arrange their meetings with terrorists. Kabir added they could sleep in mosques or the homes of other jihadists once they ­arrived in Afghanistan.

Stateside, Deleon and Santana were eager about the prospects of being terrorists. When asked by the FBI informant if both men had thought about how it would feel to kill someone, Santana responded, ‘‘The more I think about it, the more it excites me.’’

Santana said he was easily influenced by people growing up and spent time around gangs. He said converting to ­Islam was a good move for him because he could fit in and ­‘‘actually fight for something that’s right,’’ according to court documents.

Santana was born in Mexico, while Deleon was born in the Philippines. Both are lawful, permanent US residents.

Jen Collins, who lives two doors down from Santana’s apartment in Upland, east of Los Angeles, said at least a dozen FBI agents swarmed his unit early Friday. ‘‘It was like something coming out of the movies or TV,’’ Collins said.

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