Reaction was mixed Wednesday in Southern California Muslim communities to the arrests of four men charged this week in connection with a conspiracy to plot "violent jihad" on American targets overseas.
Worshippers at Masjid al-Sabereen in Pomona, the mosque where at least one of the suspects attended, expressed shock while others were skeptical of the FBI.
“Muslim or not Muslim, he should go to jail” if he is guilty, Gamal Atia told the Riverside Press Enterprise, referring to suspect Arifeen David Gojali. “He’s a good person."
Aaron Gaulding, another worshipper, had a different take.
"FBI entrapment," Gaulding said Wednesday outside the mosque. "If they're guilty of anything, they're guilty of being youth."
Gojali and three other Southern California men were charged on Monday in a plot to join al-Qaida, kill Americans and destroy U.S. military bases abroad, the FBI said.
Two days after the arrests were announced by federal officials, the FBI reportedly held a phone conference call Wednesday morning with nine area Muslim leaders.
The FBI officials offered help if discrimination against worshippers becomes a problem following the arrests, according to Muslim leaders who participated in the call.
The FBI officials on the phone also asked for the imams' cooperation if they suspect extremism within their congregations.
"If we see, or anybody sees, anything suspicious, we should inform them," Imam Shamshad Nasir of Bait ul Hameed mosque in Chino says he was told on the FBI call.
A criminal complaint unsealed this week alleges that in 2010, an Afghanistan-born former Pomona resident named Sohiel Omar Kabir, 34, introduced two other men to “radical and violent Islamic doctrine” and arranged to have them travel to a training location in Afghanistan where they would meet Taliban and al-Qaida members.
Those men, Phillippines-born Ralph Deleon, 23, of Ontario, and Miguel Alejandro Santana Vidriales, 21, of Upland, who was born in Mexico with pending U.S. citizenship, allegedly told a confidential source working for the FBI that they planned to travel to Afghanistan to engage in "violent jihad."
In one discussion with the confidential source, Santana and Deleon allegedly discussed their preferred roles -- Santana wanted to be a sniper, Deleon "wanted to be on the front lines," with a second choice in explosives.
When asked whether the men would be willing to kill the enemy, Deleon said he would “blow his brains out and send him to, to jahannam [Arabic for hell.]” court documents said.
The FBI revealed in the complaint that the confidential source they had been working with for four and a half years had received over $250,000 in payments from the government and unspecified immigration benefits.
The informant, who is not named in court documents, is an ex-convict who served a sentence for trafficking in pseudoephedrine, a chemical used in making meth.
In September 2012, Deleon and Santana recruited defendant a third man, Gojali, 21, of Riverside, a United States citizen, to join them in a “violent jihad” overseas, court documents said.
The men allegedly did some early firearms training at paintball facilities in Southern California.
FBI agents arrested Santana, Deleon and Gojali on Friday. Santana and Deleon taken into federal custody. Gojali was expected to appear in court for a detention hearing on Monday.