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Four men in California have been arrested for "plotting" to join the Taliban and kill Americans overseas, but like many of the conspiracies foiled by federal officials, these terrorists were far from completing any missions. 

The criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court on Monday alleges that the men were conspiring to kill U.S. citizens and employees, bomb public and government facilities, and "use a weapon of mass destruction outside the United States." However, only one of the four men ever made it out of the United States, he does not appear to have actually begun any terrorist training, and there were no active terrorism plots in the works. 

All four men are either U.S. citizens or on a path to citizenship, but three of the four were born outside the United States. Sohiel Omar Kabir, who was born in Afghanistan, was the oldest of the four by more than a decade and appeared to be the ring leader. He traveled to Afghanistan last December to make contact with terrorist groups and wait for the others to arrive. Two of the other accomplices recruited a third, and all three were allegedly raising money to travel to Afghanistan and meet up with Kabir. (One put his car on Craigslist saying he needed to sell it because he was leaving the country.) Another man who they shared their plans with turned out to be a confidential source for the FBI. The three men in the U.S. were arrested on Friday and Kabir was taken into custody in Afghanistan.

According to a report from KLTA news, their plans do not appear to have gone much further than coded emails about killing people and potential targets, combined with a few trips to local gun ranges and paintball games. They had discussed the possibility of joining up with the Taliban and al-Qaeda to wage "violent jihad" and their intentions may have been fully sincere. Yet, this case once again underscores the difficulty of prosecuting terrorists for crimes they haven't yet committed. (And may not even be capable of committing.)

Compare that to a similar case, coming to its conclusion today, of three men in Ohio who are being sentenced for a plot to blow up a bridge outside of Cleveland. Like several other FBI (and NYPD) cases in recent years, the Bureau is accused of setting the men up by using a questionable informant to supply the men with fake explosives and plans they weren't actually going to use. The three suspects all pleaded guilty and face sentences up to 30 years in prison. (One has just been given 11 years.)

And in a totally unrelated terrorist case, an anti-Semitic nationalist professor Poland was arrested for plotting to blow up the Parliament building with the country's president inside. The man, who was linked to the case of Norwegian mass murder Anders Breivik, was much further along in his plans, having acquired the materials to build a large bomb on his own.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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