By Dana Feldman
RIVERSIDE, California (Reuters) - A California man arrested in Afghanistan on charges he plotted to help al Qaeda and Taliban militants was denied bail on Tuesday despite claims by his lawyers that injuries he suffered during capture diminished any threat he posed if freed on bond.
The Afghan-born defendant, Sohiel Omar Kabir, 35, is accused with three younger men arrested last month outside Los Angeles of planning to unleash a campaign of "violent jihad" against U.S. military forces and other Americans overseas.
The FBI says Kabir served in the U.S. Air Force for two years about a decade ago, though his lawyers described him in a recent court filing as an Army veteran.
Kabir suffered a fractured facial bone, an eye injury and cuts to his face and head from a severe beating he suffered when apprehended last month in a military raid in Kabul, his attorneys said during a detention hearing in federal court.
The injuries left him with impaired memory function, difficulty keeping his balance and distorted vision, defense attorneys stated. They said Kabir already suffered from epilepsy and had medical problems stemming from an automobile accident.
Kabir's lawyers cited his injuries and various medical issues in requesting that he be released from jail and placed under pretrial supervision, including electronic monitoring, while restricted to his parents' home in southern California.
But prosecutors pointed to FBI evidence that Kabir had planned to engage in a suicide bombing mission while in Afghanistan and noted the fierce resistance the Pentagon said he put up when military forces captured him.
"Mr. Kabir was extremely combative," Lieutenant Colonel Todd Breasseale, a Pentagon spokesman, said in an emailed statement. "In addition to attempting to strike military personnel and resist capture, he also attempted to grab grenades and weapons from military personnel conducting the capture operation."
The same assertions were made in court by prosecutors.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Oswald Parada also cited a past criminal record involving an arrest for an unspecified violent act and a history of substance abuse in deciding to order Kabir to remain locked up without bail.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan DeWitt said Kabir had in addition tried once in the past to escape from police custody. She did not elaborate.
CAST AS PLOT'S RINGLEADER
Kabir, shackled and wearing red prison garb and a long beard, sat silently during the detention hearing, except to consult quietly from time to time with public defender Jeffrey Aaron. A small cut was visible under Kabir's right eye.
Kabir has been in federal detention since he was returned to the Los Angeles area from Afghanistan on December 3, U.S. authorities say.
He was taken into custody last month in Afghanistan under a U.S. criminal warrant charging him with conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, a federal offense that carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.
Kabir is accused of recruiting two co-conspirators, Ralph Deleon, 23, and Miguel Alejandro Santana Vidriales, 21, to join him for training with al Qaeda and Taliban militants in Afghanistan, according to a criminal complaint.
Deleon and Santana, who the FBI says converted to Islam under Kabir's influence, are alleged to have then enlisted a third man, Arifeen David Gojali, 21.
The three co-defendants, all residents of communities east of Los Angeles, were arrested together in Chino, California, on November 16, two days before the FBI says they had planned to fly from Mexico to Turkey en route to join Kabir. They each pleaded not guilty last week to a charge of conspiring to support terrorists.
(Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Bill Trott, Cynthia Johnston and Cynthia Osterman)