By Dana Feldman
RIVERSIDE, California (Reuters) - A California man arrested in Afghanistan on charges he plotted to help al Qaeda militants was denied bail on Tuesday despite claims by his lawyers that injuries he suffered during capture diminished any public threat he posed.
The defendant, U.S. Army veteran Sohiel Omar Kabir, 35, suffered a fractured facial bone, lacerations to his face and head, and an eye injury from a severe beating he suffered when apprehended last month in Kabul, his attorneys said in court.
As a result, Kabir was left with memory impairment, 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.
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.
AL QAEDA AND TALIBAN
Kabir is accused of recruiting two younger men, 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. All four are accused of taking part in various activities in preparation for deadly attacks on Americans overseas, including U.S. military personnel.
According to the FBI, Kabir told at least one co-defendant he had planned to go on a suicide bombing mission without them, before they were due to arrive, but canceled because he got sick. No target of the purported mission has been specified.
Aaron disputed the FBI's assertion in court, saying, "There was no suicide mission. He didn't go on a suicide mission."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan DeWitt said, however, that evidence made clear Kabir's intent to carry out such an act.
"Clearly his client didn't have the chance to go on a suicide mission or he wouldn't be here today," she said. "It's irrelevant. We stopped him before he was able to carry it out."
The government's case, as outlined in the FBI complaint, rests largely on conversations recorded or related second-hand by a paid FBI informant previously convicted of drug trafficking, a point seized on by defense lawyers.
Breasseale, the Pentagon spokesman, said it remained unclear whether Kabir was initially apprehended by Afghan or U.S. military personnel or a combination of both.
According to the FBI, Kabir is a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in Afghanistan and had lived in the Los Angeles suburb of Pomona before going abroad in 2011, first to Germany and then to Afghanistan. Aaron said his client had lived in the United States since the age of 2.
(Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Bill Trott and Cynthia Johnston)