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Posted: 6/19/2003 1:48:52 PM EDT
[url=http://abclocal.go.com/wabc/news/wabc_061903_terrorplea.html]Al-Qaida Operative Plea Deal; Brooklyn Bridge Plot Cited[/url] (Washington-AP, June 19, 2003) — An Ohio truck driver with ties to al-Qaida, who was allegedly involved in plots to derail trains and sabotage the Brooklyn Bridge, pleaded guilty to two felony charges, according to documents unsealed Thursday. The truck driver, Iyman Faris, 34, of Columbus, Ohio, is believed to have received instructions directly from senior al-Qaida leaders, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who is in U.S. custody overseas and has provided U.S. interrogators with valuable intelligence about the terror group's worldwide reach. Under an agreement with the Justice Department unsealed Thursday, Faris pleaded guilty to providing material support to terrorists and conspiracy to provide support. He also agreed to cooperate with government investigators. Faris faces a maximum of 20 years in prison and fines of up to $500,000 on both counts at a sentencing hearing on Aug. 1. The agreement was filed with the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., just outside Washington on May 1, but was kept secret for over a month. Attorney General John Ashcroft said in a written statement, "We have taken another American-based al-Quaida operative off the streets, who appeared to be a hard-working American trucker, but secretly scouted terrorist strikes that could have killed many of his fellow citizens." A government statement of fact filed along with the guilty plea says that Faris, also known as Mohammed Rauf and a native of Kashmir, was instructed by a senior al-Qaida operative to obtain "gas cutters" equipment that would enable him to sever the cables on "a bridge in New York City" believed to have been the Brooklyn Bridge. Faris was told to refer to the cutters as "gas stations" so that eavesdroppers would not get wind of the plot. In addition, the senior al-Qaida operative told Faris that he should obtain tools that could be used to derail trains in the United States, the affidavit says. These tools were to be referred to in code as "mechanics shops." None of the planned attacks occurred. The meetings occurred in 2000, 2001 and early 2002 in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the government statement says. They included meetings with two unidentified senior al-Qaida leaders, one believed to be Mohammed and the other labeled as Osama bin Laden's "right foot." Faris also met bin Laden himself in 2000. The statement says that Faris researched the bridge on the Internet and traveled to New York in late 2002 to examine the bridge, concluding that "the plot to destroy the bridge by severing the cables was very unlikely to succeed" because of its security and structure. He sent a coded message back to al-Qaida leaders: "The weather is too hot," meaning that the plot probably couldn't go forward. Faris was also asked by bin Laden associates in late 2000 to look into ultralight aircraft that could be used as escape planes by al-Qaida operatives, prosecutors say. In addition, Faris helped al-Qaida obtain 2,000 lightweight sleeping bags that were shipped to Afghanistan for use by bin Laden and other al-Qaida members. Faris originally came to the United States in May 1994 and became a U.S. citizen in December 1999 and worked as an independent trucker for several years. His original contact with al-Qaida came through one of the senior operatives, who the government says Faris had known since the Soviet-Afghanistan war in the 1980s. Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Justice Department has obtained a number of guilty pleas from or won court convictions of members of alleged al-Qaida cells, including six of seven members of an alleged cell in Lackawanna, N.Y. Two alleged al-Qaida members in Detroit were convicted earlier this month of providing material support and resources to the terrorist group by running an illegal document ring. One other man was acquitted in that case. (Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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