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California man accused of plotting al Qaeda support faces hearing

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Lawyers for a Southern California man arrested in Afghanistan on charges he plotted to help al Qaeda militants say he was severely beaten when captured, and they are expected to raise questions about his injuries at a hearing set for Tuesday.

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 the beating, his attorneys said in an eight-page memorandum filed in federal court last week.

As a result, Kabir was left with memory problems, difficulty keeping his balance and vision problems, the memo said. Kabir already suffered from epilepsy and had medical problems resulting from an automobile accident.

His lawyers cited his injuries and other medical issues in requesting that Kabir be released from jail and placed under pretrial supervision, including electronic monitoring, while restricted to his parents' home in Southern California.

A detention hearing was scheduled for Tuesday morning before a federal judge in Riverside, east of Los Angeles.

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 captured on November 17 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.

A criminal complaint in the case accuses Kabir 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. Deleon and Santana are alleged to have enlisted a third man, Arifeen David Gojali, 21, in the plot.

FBI SAYS SUICIDE BOMB MISSION SCRUBBED

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, too, are charged with conspiring to support terrorists. All four are accused of taking part in various activities intended as preparation for deadly attacks on Americans overseas, including U.S. military personnel.

According to the FBI, Kabir told at least one of his co-defendants 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 aborted bomb mission has been specified.

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.

Defense attorney Jeffrey Aaron told Reuters on Monday he believes his client was captured in a "snatch-and-grab raid" by U.S. and Afghan forces from his aunt's home in Afghanistan, where Kabir was living while studying Arabic at a mosque.

A U.S. Defense Department spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Todd Breasseale, said in an email message to Reuters that Kabir was captured in a raid by Afghan forces, who turned him over to the U.S. military.

FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller quoted military officials as saying Kabir had sustained "combat-related injuries" during his capture. Aaron disputed this assertion, saying Kabir had "never been in combat."

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 late 2011, first to Germany and then on to his native country.

(Writing and reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Bill Trott)

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