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O.C. man was to lead Al Qaeda attack in December, feds allege

October 21, 2013|By Adolfo Flores
  • Sinh Vinh Ngo Nguyen lived in Garden Grove with his family.
Sinh Vinh Ngo Nguyen lived in Garden Grove with his family. (Damian Dovarganes / Associated…)

An Orange County security guard accused of planning to become an Al Qaeda operative had been enlisted to train terrorist fighters for an ambush on coalition forces in a planned December attack, federal prosecutors said in court Monday.

Sinh Vinh Ngo Nguyen, 24, was arrested this month boarding a Mexico-bound bus in Santa Ana. Investigators allege he was heading to Mexico City, with plans to fly to Pakistan and train terrorist fighters.

His trial is scheduled for Dec. 3 in federal court in Santa Ana.

Nguyen is charged with attempting to provide material support — "namely himself," the indictment says — to the terrorist group. He also is accused of lying on a passport application, making false statements about his name, his date of birth, his place of birth and other information.

He was traveling under the name Hasan Abu Omar Ghannoum when arrested, authorities said.

During a hearing Monday, Nguyen was attentive and had trimmed the shoulder-length hair and thick beard he wore in his initial court appearance. He has pleaded not guilty.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Judith Heinz said that Nguyen confessed to federal agents during a 90-minute interview about his plans after agreeing to waive his Miranda rights.

“At that time he talked about his activities in Syria and also admitted his intent to train Al Qaeda fighters to execute an ambush against coalition forces,” Heinz said.

U.S. Federal Judge John F. Walter questioned whether Nguyen, who was rejected from enlisting with the U.S. military because of a hearing condition, had the skills and ability to train 30 Al Qaeda foot soldiers, as alleged.

Nguyen owned two guns, trained at shooting ranges and had a notebook with detailed instructions on how to train shooters, Heinz said.

Prosecutors are expected to present hours of audio recordings and Facebook posts in which Nguyen allegedly admits to killing at least one person during a five-month trip to Syria late last year, Heinz said.

Nguyen admitted to going to Lebanon and Syria for the purpose of “help[ing] the Free Syrian Army,” according to federal documents.

He initially planned on flying to Pakistan, faking his own death and applying for a Pakistan passport, according to court documents. However, an undercover FBI agent reportedly posing as an Al Qaeda recruiter told him he could apply for a fake passport instead.

The federal agent gave Nguyen an application and said sympathetic “brothers” within the U.S. government would issue the passport, Heinz said. Nguyen was carrying that passport when he was arrested Oct. 11, authorities said.

Nguyen also had $1,850 in Syrian currency when he was arrested, Heinz said. Agents reported finding three swords and a copy of Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” at the Garden Grove home he shared with his family.

A friend who attended the hearing said Nguyen never spoke to him about taking a trip to Syria.

“He talked about that with his other friends, I just know he left without us knowing,” said Robert Pham. “Of course we were surprised, that’s why we’re here to know what happened.”

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adolfo.flores@latimes.com

Follow Adolfo Flores on Twitter.

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