An American man arrested on terrorism related charges on October 11 at a Santa Ana, California bus station before he could board a bus bound for Mexico was ordered held without bond on Monday.
FBI agents say Sinh Vinh Ngo Nguyen of Garden Grove, California had plane tickets to fly from Mexico City to Pakistan, his final destination. The undercover FBI agent escorted him to the bus and told him they would be meeting "his sheik" in Peshawar, the prosecutor said on Monday.
FBI agents say Nguyen, a 24 year old Orange County security guard was planning to join al Qaeda and was en route to train members of al Qaeda for an planned ambush on coalition forces in Syria in December, prosecutors added.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Judith Heinz said the evidence against Nguyen was gathered by a confidential informant and an undercover FBI agent posing as an al-Qaeda recruiter. Prosecutors said Nguyen had reached out on the Internet and on his Facebook page to join the terrorist group.
Heinz said Nguyen had a fake passport, $1,850 in Syrian currency and a pamphlet with extensive instructions on shooting and setting up battle plans.
U.S. District Judge John Walter expressed skepticism about some of the evidence in the case against Nguyen. The Judge demanded more information from the prosecution, stating that the evidence presented on Monday depicted Nguyen as more of a "wannabe" terrorist with no special skills to offer al-Qaeda.
Judge John Walter noted that Nguyen was never a member of the U.S. armed forces, having been rejected because of a hearing problem.
"I don't see evidence that this defendant had any particular skill in firearms," he said, "or that he had the ability to procure or deliver weapons to these 25-30 individuals. This is the part of the case that escapes me."
Nguyen entered a not guilty plea to charges of making a false statement on a passport and attempting to provide material support and resources to a terrorist organization.
Prosecutors said Nguyen waived his rights against self-incrimination after his arrest and detailed his experience in Syria in a series of tape recorded interviews that continued for 50 hours.
"He confessed on the 50 hours of interviews," the prosecutor said, relating Nguyen's plan to go to Pakistan, fake his own death and assume a new identity "to be a soldier for Jihad."
The FBI operative posing as an al-Qaeda recruiter told Nguyen getting a fake passport would be a lot easier than faking his death and offered help. The prosecutor said Nguyen filled out the passport request with a new name, Hasan Abu Omar Ghannoum, and gave it to the agent, who sent it to the U.S. government which issued the passport.
Judge Walter asked Heinz again to identify the resources Nguyen was providing to al-Qaeda.
"He was providing himself," Heinz replied.
Judge Walker set a Dec. 3 trial date and urged the government to quickly analyze the content of eight computers and four cellphones taken from Nguyen's home.
The U.S. District Court Judge's skepticism and remarks are critical, as increasingly "lone terrorist" plots encouraged by the FBI and the United States Department of Homeland Security have been critisized for tactics often considered entrapment.
There have been dozens of similar plots interrupted "just in time" by FBI officials across the United States since 9/11. Critics say some of the FBI’s tactics amount to entrapment, with agents seeking out potential "would be terrorists" and supplying bomb materials and other means to carry out plots. When the coerced individual attempts to carry out a plot, the FBI steps in and takes full credit for foiling the plot.
Attorney Steve Dowds is keeping track of cases in which he argues that the U.S. government is systematically targeting those whom officials deem predisposed to commit crimes, before an actual crime is committed.
There are several cases in which without FBI advice and provided weapons to carry out the attacks to suspects that do not have the means to carry out the attacks alone. Therefore, the lone wolf terrorist often has a co-conspirator - the federal government.