A resident of Little Saigon who planned to become an Al Qaeda operative and lead a December attack on coalition forces will probably serve 15 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to terrorism charges.
Sinh Vinh Ngo Nguyen, the son of Vietnamese immigrants who still attended Sunday Mass with his mother, was arrested in October as he prepared to board a Mexico-bound bus in Santa Ana.
Federal authorities said Nguyen planned to make his way to Pakistan and re-emerge as Hasan Abu Omar Ghannoum.
In court, Nguyen denied allegations that he had told federal agents that he was set to train about 30 Al Qaeda fighters for an attack.
But in an abrupt move late last month, Nguyen pleaded guilty to one count of attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
In a plea agreement, Nguyen admitted that he went to Syria about a year ago to join opposition forces against the Bashar Assad regime. The U.S. attorney’s office agreed to recommend a sentence reduction as part of the plea.
“After he returned to the United States, Nguyen told associates that he had offered to train Al Qaeda forces in Syria, but his offer had been turned down,” according to a news release from the federal agency.
In the late summer and early fall of 2013, an undercover FBI agent met with Nguyen, federal authorities said. Nguyen allegedly told the agent he wanted to return to jihad.
In meetings between Nguyen and the undercover FBI agent, the two discussed how Nguyen would go to Pakistan and train Al Qaeda fighters for a guerrilla attack on coalition forces.
When Nguyen was taken into custody, he was carrying a fake passport and a computer drive that contained more than 180 training videos on shooting firearms, according to the Justice Department.
In his earlier travels to Syria, authorities said, Nguyen had bragged on his Facebook page of killing at least one person. Prosecutors said he had honed his shooting abilities at an Orange County firing range.
His attorney, Yasmin Cader, had explained earlier that the fighting in Syria is complex, with several different forces involved in the conflict that aren’t linked to Al Qaeda. She did not comment after the guilty plea.
Nguyen is scheduled to be sentenced March 21.