RIVERSIDE, Calif. (KTLA) -- Accused terrorists Arifeen Gojali, Ralph Deleon, and Miguel Santana entered not guilty pleas in connection with an alleged terror plot to join Al Qaeda.
Last week, a federal grand jury indicted Gojali, 21, of Riverside along with Santana, 21, of Upland and Deleon, 23, of Ontario. All three were arrested in Ontario on Nov.16.
A fourth suspect and central figure in the alleged plot is Sohiel Kabir, 34, a native Afghan and naturalized U.S. citizen who has lived in Pomona and served in the U.S. Air Force from 2000 to 2001.
Kabir was apprehended on Nov. 18 in Kabul. According to the criminal complaint, he converted co-defendants Santana and Deleon to radical Islam in 2010.
Kabir then left for Afghanistan to make arrangements for the three of them to join the Taliban or Al Qaeda, the complaint says.
Santana is a Mexican national who was in the process of getting his U.S. citizenship. Deleon is a legal permanent resident from the Philippines.
In September 2012, Deleon and Santana recruited defendant Gojali, a U.S. citizen, to join them and travel overseas to commit "violent jihad," as alleged in the complaint.
The three men had purchased tickets on Nov. 15, and planned to fly from Mexico City to Istanbul.
They were arrested during a traffic stop the next day, two days before their scheduled departure.
According to the FBI, undercover FBI operatives began chatting with Santana online in February, and a confidential informant had infiltrated the group by March.
That informant has been on the FBI payroll for more than four years and received $250,000 and "immigration benefits" for his work in apprehending the suspects.
According to the affidavit included in the criminal complaint, he was once convicted of trafficking pseudoephedrine, a chemical precursor to methamphetamine.
Kabir first got to Afghanistan in July 2012 and informed Santana and Deleon that they would join the "students" (the Taliban) and then step up to join the "professors" (Al Qaeda), according to the affidavit.
He said the "brothers would take care of everything." But by Aug. 31, he was telling them the situation with Al Qaeda was a "little complicated."
In September, he told them his main priority was now in Yemen, and they asked why they should fly to Afghanistan if that was so.
On Sept. 30, Kabir said there were more complications because the three were coming from the United States.
All the while, the men continued their preparations in California, and the FBI was compiling evidence against them.
After winning their trust, the confidential source spent time with the suspects, joining them in many of their so-called "training exercises" at gun ranges and paint ball facilities.