SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — A Muslim convert who had been licensed to work as a security guard pleaded not guilty Friday to charges of attempting to join al-Qaida and lying on a U.S. passport application to aid international terrorism.
Sinh Vinh Ngo Nguyen, 24, of Garden Grove, was arrested earlier in the day in Santa Ana while waiting to board a bus to Mexico, the FBI said.
Nguyen, a U.S. citizen, was ordered detained on the grounds of danger and risk of flight during a brief federal court appearance in Orange County.
He had long hair, a beard, mustache and wore glasses. His muscular arms were cuffed and shackled to his waist.
Nguyen, who is also known as Hasan Abu Omar Ghannoum, attempted to work under the direction of al-Qaida, according to an indictment returned Friday.
The four-page document provided no details about the alleged terrorism act.
The Orange County Register reported (http://bit.ly/15uiVXm) that Nguyen went to Syria in December after hearing about the civil war there.
"He said that he wanted to protect his brothers," Nguyen's sister, Minh Ngoc Nguyen, told the newspaper. "He would want to help other people.
His family also said Nguyen spent several months in Lebanon, beginning late last year.
"He wanted to view more of the religious things. First-hand experience," said Nguyen's younger brother, Dinh Nguyen.
Investigators do not believe Nguyen was traveling with others, and the FBI said it was not aware of a continuing threat to the public. The investigation by the Joint Terrorism Task Force was ongoing.
Nguyen's mother, Hieu Nguyen, said at the courthouse that she knew nothing about the case and was surprised by the allegations. She said he converted to Islam in the past year.
Nguyen was licensed as a security guard and had permits for a baton and firearm from California's Bureau of Security and Investigative Services, according to Russ Heimerich, a state spokesman. He obtained the license and permits in 2009 and they were set to expire Sept. 30, 2013, though it wasn't known if he tried to renew them.
Officials for the FBI and U.S. attorney's office declined comment. Defense lawyer Amy Karlin also declined comment.
Nguyen was scheduled to return to court Oct. 18.