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Three accused of plotting to join al Qaeda indicted in California

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Three men accused of plotting to join up with al Qaeda and Taliban militants for training in Afghanistan were indicted on Wednesday in California in a move that could allow prosecutors to move to trial more quickly.

But the four-page indictment, returned by a grand jury in Riverside, offered few details beyond those contained in a criminal complaint filed earlier this month against the men, all U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

The indictment charged Ralph Kenneth Deleon, 23, Miguel Alejandro Vidriales Santana, 21, and Arifeen David Gojali, 21, with conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, the same charge contained in the complaint.

The filing of the indictment allows federal prosecutors to skip a preliminary hearing in which they would lay out their case and a judge would determine if there was enough evidence to merit a trial. The men each face up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

The three men had lived in Southern California's Inland Empire, east of Los Angeles, before their arrest on November 16, two days before they had planned to fly to Turkey via Mexico before heading on to Afghanistan, the FBI said at the time.

The suspected ringleader, Sohiel Omar Kabir, 34, is accused of recruiting the three men, two of whom converted to Islam under his influence. Kabir was apprehended this month in Afghanistan, but was not listed in Wednesday's indictment.

Kabir, who was charged in the previously filed criminal complaint, is still being held in Afghanistan, said Laura Eimiller, a spokeswoman for the FBI. She declined to comment further on the case.

Deleon and Santana, in conversations relayed or recorded by an unidentified paid FBI informant, spoke about traveling to Afghanistan to join Kabir and engage in "violent jihad," according to the criminal complaint. It said they described potential targets for attacks, including U.S. military bases.

Together with Gojali, they also visited a Los Angeles firing range and a paint-ball facility for shooting practice to prepare for further militant training overseas, the FBI has said.

(Reporting By Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)

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