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Illinois man accused of helping Iraq

Dumeisi made his first appearance in federal court Wednesday.
Dumeisi made his first appearance in federal court Wednesday.

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CHICAGO, Illinois (CNN) -- The publisher of an Illinois-based Arabic language magazine was arrested Wednesday for helping Saddam Hussein's regime gather information about opposition groups in the United States, federal prosecutors said.

Khaled Abdel-Latif Dumeisi, 60, is a permanent U.S. resident who lives in the Chicago suburb of Oak Lawn. He faces charges of offering assistance to Iraqi intelligence agents, including giving them phony press credentials.

Prosecutors also accused Dumeisi of accepting money from the Baghdad regime to facilitate his activities.

Dumeisi made an initial court appearance Wednesday afternoon to hear the charges against him, including conspiracy and failing to register as a foreign agent. He was being held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago until a bond hearing next Thursday.

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald of the Northern District of Illinois said prosecutors would oppose releasing him on bail.

If convicted of the charges, Dumeisi could face up to 15 years in prison and as much as $500,000 in fines. However, Fitzgerald said Dumeisi will not face more serious espionage charges because his activities were directed at Iraqi opposition groups and he was not trying to obtain U.S. national defense information.

While Dumeisi allegedly received training from Iraqi intelligence agents and traveled to Baghdad, he was not an Iraqi intelligence officer, Fitzgerald said.

At an afternoon press conference, Fitzgerald said Dumeisi's arrest should send the message that the United States "can't allow" people to conduct intelligence activities on behalf of foreign governments against individuals living here.

"It's serious, because it concerns the liberty interests and privacy and safety of other individuals that he allegedly transmitted information about, but it is not espionage against the United States," he said.

Fitzgerald said Dumeisi, whose company, Around-The-World News, publishes Al-Mahjar, an Arabic language monthly, was first questioned by the FBI in 1999.

In addition, four unnamed individuals, including a former Iraqi Intelligence Service officer who allegedly met Dumeisi two years ago at Iraq's United Nations mission in New York, also provided the FBI with information about his activities, he said

According to the complaint against Dumeisi, a key piece of evidence in the case was uncovered in Baghdad in April, after the fall of Saddam's regime. A dossier found in an IIS safehouse contained information about an intelligence operative in the United States, code-named "Sirhan."

Fitzgerald said details in the dossier about "Sirhan's" activities showed he was actually Dumeisi. However, "The FBI was looking at him before the file was found," he said.

Under federal law, individuals who are acting as agents for foreign governments must register with the U.S. attorney general if they do not hold diplomatic credentials.

On immigration documents, Dumeisi, who has lived in the United States for the past 10 years, said he was a Jordanian citizen born in the Palestinian territories, Fitzgerald said. However, prosecutors have not been able to confirm that information, he said.

Dumeisi's application for American citizenship was denied in November 2002 for failing to provide documents requested by immigration officials, according to the complaint.

Prosecutors alleged that Dumeisi was recruited by the IIS to secretly obtain information about opposition groups, and he was trained to use a pen with a hidden camera and microphone to record an interview with an Iraqi opposition leader. He also told associates that he had received a small amount of money, about $3,000, from the Iraqi government to finance his activities, prosecutors said.

He was also accused of providing fake press identification cards that Iraqi intelligence officers used to gain access to conferences and public events. Without those cards, they would not have been able to attend the events because of travel restrictions on Iraqi personnel at the U.N. mission, Fitzgerald said.

However, those documents did not allow Iraqi intelligence agents to enter the country, according to Fitzgerald.

Prosecutors also alleged that Dumeisi obtained the telephone records of an unnamed Iraqi opposition leader through a woman who worked for an international long-distance telephone service. The woman claimed to be romantically involved with the opposition figure, who was identified only as a "possible future president of Iraq."

According to the complaint, Dumeisi admitted to the FBI that he had periodically traveled to Baghdad and had met with Iraqi officials in New York. But he told them those contacts were part of his work with the magazine.

--CNN Justice Correspondent Kelli Arena contributed to this report.

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