RIVERSIDE - Four Inland Empire men suspected of conspiring to plot terrorist attacks against U.S. overseas targets pleaded not guilty Wednesday during an arraignment in federal court.
It was the first time all four defendants appeared together in court to answer to a charge of providing material support to terrorists.
Sohiel Omar Kabir, 35 of Pomona - the suspected ringleader who prosecutors say recruited two of the defendants to embark on a holy war against the U.S. - faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted.
A federal grand jury indicted DeLeon, Vidriales and Gojali in November after their arrest in Chino Hills, and the trio pleaded not guilty during an initial arraignment on Dec. 5.
On the day of their arrest on Nov. 16, the three had planned to fly to Afghanistan to meet up with Kabir, who had been living in Kabul since July 24 and had been corresponding with the other defendants via social media, authorities said.
DeLeon, Gojali and Vidriales had planned to join the Taliban and al-Qaida and attack U.S. military bases and personnel, according to their indictment.
Kabir was subsequently detained by Army Special Forces in Afghanistan, then handed over to the FBI and brought back to the U.S. A superceding indictment was filed on Dec. 12 naming all four defendants, requiring the quartet to appear in court Wednesday to answer to the new indictment.
After Wednesday's brief arraignment proceedings, the case was assigned to Magistrate Judge Virginia Phillips for a status conference, where prosecutors and defense attorneys hash out evidence issues that could prove problematic if prosecutors invoke a federal law called the Classified Information Procedures Act, or CIPA. The law limits the disclosure of certain evidence/discovery to defense attorneys that prosecutors deem confidential.
The government filed a notice with the court Monday of its intent to invoke CIPA should it be necessary.
As of now, it has not been necessary, and the focal point of discussion at Wednesday's proceedings centered on whether defense attorneys will have enough time to review the hundreds of hours of audio evidence and more than 1,600 pages of documents before the Aug. 6 trial date set by Phillips.
Kabir's attorney, federal public defender Jeffrey Aaron, requested a pretrial hearing in April so he and the other defense attorneys can update Phillips on how prepared they are to move forward with the trial.
"I think by late April we should have a pretty good idea if we'll be prepared by Aug. 6," Aaron told Phillips.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan DeWitt said the trial is expected to take four to six weeks.
"This is a complex case, obviously," said DeWitt, citing the plethora of evidence seized and gathered during the investigation, including 12 laptop computers, 16 desktop computers and hundreds of hours of audio-taped conversations between the defendants and a confidential FBI informant and more than 1,600 pages of discovery already presented to defense attorneys.
Phillips was adamant that the trial commence as soon as possible.
"At the latest, I hope this case will go to trial no later than 12 months from now," Phillips said.