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Man convicted of missile plot

Briton accused of trying to smuggle shoulder-held missiles

By Jonathan Wald
and Maya Mantri

United States
Great Britain
Acts of terror
Crime, Law and Justice

NEWARK, New Jersey -- A British man accused of trying to smuggle shoulder-held missiles into the United States and offering to obtain a radioactive "dirty bomb" for terrorists was found guilty Wednesday in U.S. District Court on all five of the counts he faced.

Hemant Lakhani, 68, of the Hendon area of London, was arrested in August 2004 in a sting operation involving an 18-month collaboration among officials in the United States, Russia and Britain.

U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie called Lakhani "a victim of his own conduct" who was willing to sell arms "with the expressed purpose to have them used to kill innocent American citizens."

Lakhani's lawyer, Henry Klingemen, told CNN, "We accept the verdict but we're disappointed. ... We had an entrapment defense which is still a good defense." He said he will wait until the sentencing to decide on whether to appeal.

Klingemen described his client as sad but not surprised. "His main concern was his wife," he said. "His last words to me was, 'Please take care of my wife.'"

The indictment against Lakhani said the Indian-born Briton told an investigator that shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles he attempted to import into the United States "could be used most effectively in terrorist attacks against commercial aircraft in the United States if 10 to 15 commercial aircraft were shot down simultaneously at different locations throughout the country."

According to federal prosecutors, he boasted of sales to terrorist groups and thought he had struck a deal to sell a missile to a Somali group seeking to "launch a jihad" against a U.S. commercial airline. He tried to sell the group 200 missiles, and later insisted they buy 50 after they received the first one, priced at $85,000.

The man claiming to represent the Somali group was instead cooperating with government investigators, as were the undercover Russian authorities who sold him the missile.

The missile Lakhani brought into the country was a dud.

Prosecutors brought further charges against Lakhani in December, claiming he offered to procure a variety of anti-aircraft weapons, tanks and radar systems, as well as a radioactive explosive device known as a "dirty bomb."

Lakhani is scheduled to be sentenced August 8.

Two other men indicted in the same case for their roles as financial middlemen pleaded guilty to transferring money illegally. Yehuda Abraham and Moinudden Ahmed Hameed contended they did not know what the transferred money would be used for.

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