RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — Two Southern California men were convicted Thursday of conspiring to support terrorists and murder Americans overseas.
Sohiel Omar Kabir and Ralph Deleon face life sentences for the convictions announced in U.S. District Court after jurors deliberated for a week.
Kabir, 36, of Pomona and Ralph Deleon, 25, of Ontario were each charged with five counts of conspiracy for what prosecutors said was a plan to train overseas as terrorists so they could target U.S. military and allies.
Kabir was acquitted on one of five conspiracy counts and jurors were deadlocked on two of the five identical counts against Deleon.
Defense lawyers portrayed the two as hapless pot smokers who talked a big game but didn’t intend any harm.
Deleon and two other men were arrested two years ago before embarking on a journey to meet Kabir in Afghanistan. Kabir was later caught by U.S. troops in Kabul.
Federal agents began tracking the group after one of the men, Miguel Santana Vidriales, returned from visiting his mother in Mexico in January 2012 with a copy of a jihadist magazine in his possession.
Prosecutors portrayed Kabir as the ringleader who met Deleon and Santana at a hookah bar and introduced them to radical Islamic teachings. Arifeen David Gojali was recruited later.
Santana and Gojali previously pleaded guilty and cooperated with prosecutors.
An FBI informant who infiltrated the group secretly recorded many of their discussions about plans to train first with the Taliban and then graduate to al-Qaida. The men began hiking to prepare for the rugged terrain in Afghanistan, and they took target practice at shooting ranges and played paint ball to simulate combat.
Defense lawyers blamed informant Mohammad Hammad for prodding the men along and paying some of their expenses. Mohammad, who was once convicted of trafficking a key ingredient in methamphetamine, was paid $380,000 by the U.S. for his work.
Kabir and Deleon were convicted of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists and conspiracy to murder U.S. officers or employees overseas.
Kabir was acquitted on a count of conspiracy to murder, kidnap or maim overseas.
Jurors were deadlocked on two conspiracy counts against Deleon: conspiracy to receive military training from al-Qaida and conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.
Kabir faces sentencing Feb. 23. Deleon is to return to court Oct. 20 when prosecutors will announce whether they’ll seek a new trial on the additional counts.