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Second court date set in missile case

Hemant Lakhani
Hemant Lakhani

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CNN's Deborah Feyerick on the arraignment of British arms dealer Hemant Lakhani as federal prosecutors provided more details about the weapons sting.
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- The British man arrested in an elaborate multinational sting and accused of trying to smuggle a shoulder-launched surface-to-air missile into the United States to sell to terrorists is set to appear in court Monday, his lawyer said.

Public defender Donald McCauley said he met with suspect Hemant Lakhani twice Wednesday and planned to meet again with him later Thursday.

Lakhani, who was charged Wednesday in federal court, was arrested Tuesday in a sting operation that involved an 18-month effort among law enforcement officials in the United States, Russia and Britain. The FBI said Lakhani believed he was selling the missile to Somali terrorists who planned to attack a U.S. commercial airliner.

Lakhani, who was born in India, could face 25 years in prison if he is convicted on both counts against him: providing material support to terrorists and illegal weapons dealing.

At a court appearance Wednesday, he waived his right to hear the charges against him, and was ordered held without bail.

According to federal prosecutors, the alleged international arms dealer boasted of sales to terrorist groups. Officials say he was trying to sell 200 missiles to men he believed were terrorists and then insisted they buy 50 more after they paid $85,000 for the first one.

Undercover operation

The man who claimed to represent the Somali group was a cooperating witness for the FBI. The missile Lakhani brought into the country was a dud and the Russian authorities who sold Lakhani the bogus missile were undercover operatives participating in the sting.

The operation -- involving numerous agencies working together -- also netted the Tuesday arrests of two Manhattan gem dealers accused of being the "money launderers" in the plot. They were to funnel the cash between the buyer and the seller, according to the federal complaint.

Moinuddeen Ahmed Hameed was charged Wednesday in Newark, New Jersey, and Yehuda Abraham had a procedural hearing in Manhattan and will be charged at a later time, authorities said.

According to federal documents, Lakhani's interactions with the fake terrorist frontman date back to "in or about December 2001." During the next year and a half, the two had numerous conversations and met several times -- including last month in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Lakhani also met with undercover Russian agents who he thought were selling him the missile.

The dud SA-18 Igla missile was sent by ship to Baltimore, Maryland, labeled as "medical equipment," where Lakhani believed it was to be picked up the terrorists, U.S. officials told CNN.

Undercover FBI agents flew it to Newark for a scheduled meeting with Lakhani to make a $500,000 down payment for another 50 missiles, and pick up the first one, officials said. Instead, Lakhani was arrested.

CNN Producer Laura Dolan contributed to this story.


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