Despite their aspirations, the three probably weren't likely to find themselves on the front lines of a jihad any time soon, said Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a senior fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a non-partisan think tank focused on national security and foreign policy.
Recent history is cluttered with instances of radicalized Muslims from the U.S. and other Western nations who traveled to Afghanistan or Pakistan to join the jihad, only to find themselves turned away or strung along, he said. Little has been publicly released about Kabir, the alleged recruiter, but it's unlikely he would have been in a position to secure a spot for the three in any important operations, he added.
"It's quite possible these guys would have gotten the cold shoulder had they gone over there," he said. "They're not really useful guys, they're not people who have a great deal of knowledge about the U.S. that could benefit the Taliban organization, they don't have skill sets. The best things they have to offer are their passports and their ethnicity."
That's little solace for their families — or for Muslims who worry cases like this are a symptom of a whole generation of new converts who have little in common with organized worship and the mosque communities that traditionally provide religious education and spiritual guidance.
"The imams should reach out. They have to make the mosques interesting and attractive to young generations and try to understand their psychology, try to address their concerns and have a dialogue," said Ali, the UC Riverside professor.
"They cannot just say 'Islam is a religion of peace' and do nothing. To me, this is a really a challenge for imams, to really address the issue," he said. "They cannot deny it's happening, even though it's a very small minority."
Associated Press writer Greg Risling in Los Angeles contributed to this report.