And it was why he converted to Islam, not knowing anything about it "besides it being the truth," according to an indictment filed Nov. 16 in U.S. District Court.
Federal prosecutors are alleging that Santana, 21, of Upland, and two other men - Arifeen David Gojali, 21, of Upland and Ralph Deleon, 23, of Ontario - planned to travel to Afghanistan to join al-Qaida or the Taliban and participate in terrorist training. The goal: Kill U.S. soldiers and target U.S. interests overseas.
Also charged is 34-year-old Sohiel Omar Kabir, a former Pomona resident and U.S. Air Force pilot accused of orchestrating the alleged terrorist plot and recruiting the three young men.
It is impressionable young men like Santana that recruiters for extremist terrorist or hate groups often target, said Brian Levin, a professor of criminal justice at Cal State San Bernardino and director of the university's Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.
"It's folks who are looking for pure validation and also a higher calling as they enter their young adulthood and feel unfulfilled," said Levin. "They can go from working at a disappointing job or having minor scrapes with the law to going to something bigger. They not only get pure validation and identity, but a calling."
According to the indictment, filed Nov. 16 in U.S. District Court in Riverside, Kabir met Deleon and Santana in a hookah bar and introduced the two to the radical Islamist doctrine of Anwar al-Awalki, the former al-Qaida leader who died in September 2011 after being struck by a missile fired by a U.S. drone aircraft. Kabir reportedly also introduced them to jihadi videos and other media, including Inspire magazine, which aims to find recruits for al-Qaida in the U.S. and Europe.
Authorities were first tipped off on the alleged terrorist plot in January when U.S. Border Patrol agents caught Santana with a copy of Inspire magazine in his possession as he crossed the border into the U.S. from Mexico.
Santana later told the undercover FBI agent that he had participated in terrorist training in Mexico, according to the indictment.
Deleon and Santana later brought Gojali into the equation and sold him on the idea of traveling overseas, where they entertained the idea of fighting on the front lines as snipers or explosives experts, authorities said. Throughout 2012, the three reportedly exchanged messages with Kabir about their terrorist aspirations on social media sites, mainly Facebook.
The alleged pattern of activity carried out by the defendants, Levin said, fits an all-to-common pattern that extremist groups tend to follow.
"What we frequently see is a combination of personal contact that is aided by various extremist material on the Internet that relates to belief systems, folklore, targeted aggression and technical know-how," Levin said. "The Internet really plays a key role in the recruitment and radicalization of a sliver of young and impressionable Muslims living here in the U.S., many of who are converts."
In his most recent academic article titled "A New Breed of American Home Grown Internet Extremists Emerge," Levin says the danger posed by what he calls the "new provocateurs" is that the Internet has provided a tool to rapidly radicalize and connect an extremely small number of disenfranchised or unstable young people through membership in a virtual community.
"The protections that the First Amendment provides to expression in the United States as well as the disdain that radicals have for American policies and culture makes the nation a focus for a small but dangerous group of homegrown radical extremists that target small cells and lone wolves," Levin wrote in his article.
Since 9/11, Levin said, there have been more than 60 terrorist plots hatched involving similar methodologies, peaking in 2010.
"This is a small sliver of the American extremist community," Levin said.
Potential recruits for extremist activity are often transformed after undergoing a culling process characterized by identity-building exercises or, in the case of al-Qaida, a recruit's demonstrated knowledge of radical Islam doctrine, according to a 2010 report by the RAND Corp, a nonprofit research and analysis company.
Most recruits are more than eager to consume such doctrine, given their vulnerability and yearning for identity. Oftentimes, their motivation exceeds their talents, which isn't necessarily a bad thing in the world of terrorism, Levin said.
"It's really important to know that many of the individuals are unskilled and could be a danger in committing mass casualty attacks due to their obsessiveness and motivation," Levin said. "It really creates a threat that people tend to underestimate."