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U.S.: Pakistani in U.S. aided al Qaeda

From Phil Hirschkorn
CNN

Uzair Paracha was detained in late March as a material witness in the probe of the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Uzair Paracha was detained in late March as a material witness in the probe of the attacks of September 11, 2001.

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Federal prosecutors have levied terrorism conspiracy charges against a 23-year-old Pakistani national for allegedly arranging for an al Qaeda operative to illegally enter the United States.

Uzair Paracha was made his first appearance in U.S. District Court Friday but did not enter a plea. A bail hearing will be held Tuesday.

Paracha, a legal permanent resident in the United States, has been in jail for four months.

He was detained in late March as a material witness in the ongoing investigation into al Qaeda and the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.

The charge against him, one count of conspiracy to provide material support and resources to al Qaeda, carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

Defense attorney Anthony Ricco said Paracha will contest the charges.

The criminal complaint filed by U.S. Attorney James Comey alleges that Paracha agreed to help the terrorist group operative obtain documents that would have allowed him to re-enter and possibly remain in the United States.

Specifically, Paracha allegedly helped the operative, who is not named in the complaint, to apply to the Immigration and Naturalization Service for a refugee travel document and to retrieve his passport.

As part of the scheme, Paracha agreed to pose as the individual in phone calls to the I.N.S., according to the complaint.

Paracha allegedly met in Pakistan earlier this year with that al Qaeda operative, who remains overseas, according to the complaint.

The operative allegedly asked Paracha to do certain things -- deposit money in his bank account, use his credit cards, close his post office box in Gaithersburg, Maryland -- to make it appear as if the operative was in the United States.

At the house where Paracha was living, FBI agents say they found a Maryland driver's license with a photograph of the al Qaeda operative and his name, his Social Security card, his Bank of America ATM card, and a key to his post office box.

A government source confirmed that the al Qaeda operative is Majid Khan, a former Baltimore resident who authorities say conducted surveillance for al Qaeda in the United States, but is no longer believed to be in the country.

Paracha arrived most recently in the United States in February, lived with a cousin in Brooklyn, and went into business selling Karachi residences owned by his father to Pakistanis moving back to their homeland, according to Ricco and co-defense attorney Edward Wilford.

Prosecutors say the al Qaeda operative promised Paracha a $200,000 investment in his business, which also has an office in Karachi, contingent on his assistance, according to the complaint.

Paracha knew that the operative and another man were supporters of Osama bin Laden, according to the complaint.

Sources familiar with the case identified the other man as Khalid Shaikh Mohamed, the architect of the September 11 plot who is in U.S. custody.

Information Mohamed has revealed to his interrogators led indirectly to Paracha's arrest, government sources have said.

"Paracha knew that by performing the tasks," the complaint says, he "would be acting on behalf of al Qaeda."

Paracha set himself up in the midtown Manhattan office of his father's business partner in International Merchandise Group, an import-export company that shipped clothing in container ships for clients that included Kmart.

Neither IMG nor the elder Paracha's partner has been implicated in the case.

However, Paracha's father, Saifullah, was arrested July 5 at the Karachi, Pakistan, airport while embarking on a round trip to Bangkok, Thailand, and remains in police custody.

During his time in New York, Paracha allegedly received two calls on his cell phone from Khan, the al Qaeda operative, who was checking on the status of his travel documents, according to the complaint.

Papers possessed by Paracha included handwritten instructions, such as "always call from a pay phone" and "put some money in my account," and statements such as "my status: asylee or refugee," according to the complaint.

Ricco asserted that Paracha, who obtained a graduate degree in business from the Institute of Business Administration in Karachi last year, has never been to a terrorist training camp in neighboring Afghanistan and was not a member of al Qaeda.

"Uzair was manipulated," Ricco said outside of court, calling his client a "bright but naive young man."

Paracha's mother, Farhat, in an interview with CNN in Karachi, denied that her husband or son are al Qaeda associates.

"My husband is not involved in any terrorist organization, let me tell you that and I'm 100 percent sure of it. And neither is my son," she said.

"I don't know why this is happening. I think it's the paranoia. I think it's just America is scared so they're just suspecting everybody which they come across. That's what I feel. "

Attorney General John Ashcroft said, "This case demonstrates that al Qaeda will go to great lengths to enlist support here in the United States. Our efforts are focused on identifying and dismantling those rings of support on which our terrorist enemies seek to rely."

CNN's Ash-har Quraishi in Islamabad and Kevin Bohn in Washington contributed to this report.


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