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Lawyer: Detained Pakistani to face terrorism charges

Attorney disputes allegations of aiding al Qaeda

From Phil Hirschkorn

Uzair Paracha
Uzair Paracha

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Uzair Paracha, a Pakistani national in U.S. custody for four months, is expected to face terrorism conspiracy charges for alleged connections to al Qaeda, defense attorneys say.

Paracha, 23, has been held in federal custody since late March, initially as a material witness into the government's ongoing investigation of al Qaeda, the Islamic terrorist group behind the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Khalid Shaikh Mohamed, the alleged 9/11 mastermind now in U.S. custody, provided some information to his interrogators that led to Paracha's arrest, said attorneys Anthony Ricco and Edward Wilford.

The defense attorneys said charges were imminent alleging that Paracha arranged for al Qaeda operatives to enter the U.S. and participated in an effort to procure chemical weapons.

Paracha is expected to be charged with conspiracy to provide and providing material assistance a terrorist organization for the purpose of obtaining weapons of mass destruction, Ricco and Wilford said.

Neither the U.S. Attorney's office for the Southern District of New York, which is handling the prosecution, nor the FBI had any comment on the case.

"Plea negotiations did'nt come to frution," Ricco said. "When he is charged, he will be entering a plea of 'not guilty.'"

The attorneys said the question of Paracha's intent will be a key question in the case.

"We believe if the jury looks at it closely, and puts aside the fear factor of al Qaeda, he will get a fair trial here," said Ricco.

Paracha was arrested at a midtown Manhattan office where he had set up a business purportedly selling real estate to Pakistanis who are increasingly moving back to Pakistan, Ricco and Wilford said.

His father, Saifullah, has a financial interest in a clothing export company based in that office, the attorneys said.

Saifullah Paracha was arrested July 5 at the Karachi, Pakistan airport while embarking on a roundtrip to Bangkok, Thailand. He remains in Pakistani custody.

The attorneys said Uzair Paracha came to the U.S. on a travel visa and lived with a cousin in Brooklyn; he also has an uncle in Connecticut.

He obtained a graduate degree in business from the Institute of Business Adminsitration, in Karachi, in 2002.

"He is an extremely bright and extremely naive guy," Ricco said. "He is neither a chemist nor a soldier."

Ricco asserted that Paracha has never been to a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan.

"We want everyone to know, we want the world to know, and the world will know at his trial what kind of individual he is. He is a good person at heart," said Wilford.

The attorneys said the government never threatened to declare Paracha an "enemy combatant" and move him to military custody and remove his access to attorneys.

"It's something we're concerned about," Ricco said.

Last month, President Bush declared another alleged al Qaeda associate, Ali Saleh al-Marri, from Qatar, an enemy combatant and ordered his transer to a South Carolina Navy brig just two weeks before he was scheduled to stand trial in Illinois for credit card fraud and making false statements to FBI agents.

Enemy combatant Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen alleged to have plotted to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" in the United States, was initially processed in the criminal court system before his transfer to the military.

Mohamed provided Information about al-Marri that led to his change of status, government sources have said.

Mohamed also was a source for information leading to the arrest of Ohio truck driver Iyman Faris, a native of Kashmir, who in June pleaded guilty to providing material support for terrorists after weeks of negotiations.

The government said Faris researched the possibility of destroying the Brooklyn Bridge by severing its cables and was instructed to obtain tools that could be used to derail trains in Washington, D.C.

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