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Homeland Security

Washington File

19 June 2003

Truck Driver Pleads Guilty To Supporting Al-Qaeda Terrorists

(Attorney General Ashcroft provides details in June 19 news
conference) (1720)
The Justice Department announced that a U.S. truck driver has pleaded
guilty to charges of supporting al-Qaeda terrorist projects in the
United States.
Iyman Faris, also known as Mohammed Rauf, a Kashmir native who entered
the United States in 1994 and became a U.S. citizen in 1999, pleaded
guilty on May 1 to "conspiracy to provide material support to the
al-Qaeda organization, as well as providing material support to that
terrorist group," announced Attorney General John Ashcroft June 19.
In remarks prepared for delivery at a Washington news conference,
Ashcroft said that Faris had traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan, met
with Osama Bin Laden and helped al-Qaeda by doing research and
scouting U.S. sites intended to be targets of al-Qaeda's future acts
of terrorism.
For several years Faris worked as an independent truck driver from his
home base of Columbus, Ohio, and traveled across the country, "making
deliveries to airports and businesses without raising any suspicions,"
the attorney general said.
The U.S. government was able to identify Faris' links to al-Qaeda by
using law enforcement tools made available by the passage of the USA
Patriot Act, Ashcroft said. He said U.S. intelligence, law enforcement
and homeland security communities were able to piece together Faris'
communications to al-Qaeda through his use of cell phones and the
Internet.
"This case sends a clear message that the United States will continue
to be vigilant against all threats, whether they come from overseas or
here at home," Ashcroft said.
Following is the text of Ashcroft's remarks prepared for the briefing:
(begin text)
Prepared Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft
Plea Agreement Announcement
June 19, 2003
(Note: The Attorney General often deviates from prepared remarks.)
Good afternoon.
On any given day, Iyman Faris appeared to be a hard working
independent truck driver. Working out of Columbus, Ohio, he freely
crisscrossed the country, making deliveries to airports and businesses
without raising a suspicion.
But Faris led a secret, double life. He traveled to Pakistan and
Afghanistan, covertly met with Osama Bin Laden, and joined Al Qaeda's
jihad against America.
From late 2000 to March of this year, Faris worked in concert with our
Al Qaeda enemies to plot potential attacks against America and its
citizens here in his adopted homeland.
This afternoon, I am announcing that Judge Leonie Brinkema, of the
United States District Court in the Eastern District of Virginia, has
unsealed the guilty plea of Iyman Faris, a/k/a Mohammed Rauf.
On May 1st, Faris pled guilty to two charges: conspiracy to provide
material support to the Al Qaeda organization, as well as providing
material support to that terrorist group.
With this two-count plea, the Department of Justice continues to root
out terrorists and those who support terrorists and continue to
operate here in the United States.
Faris has admitted to:
-- In late 2000, meeting with Osama Bin Laden and other senior Al
Qaeda operatives;
-- In late 2000 or early 2001, providing Al Qaeda with research on
ultralight planes, which Al Qaeda intended to use in its terrorism;
-- In early 2001, providing Al Qaeda with material support, including
dealings involving cash, thousands of sleeping bags, plane tickets,
and cell phones; and
-- Between April 2002 and March 2003, scouting sites for acts of
terrorism in the United States, including a bridge in New York and
train tracks.
Shortly after the horrific assault of September 11th, we learned of
and began to anticipate and plan for a potential second wave of
terrorist attacks. We knew that Al Qaeda and its network of terrorist
operatives remained in the United States, planning and pursuing
potential attacks against America and its citizens.
Since September 11th, we worked diligently to uncover supporters of
terrorism:
-- In Buffalo, New York, where we obtained guilty pleas from six men
for providing material support to Al Qaeda;
-- In Detroit, where two men were recently convicted of providing
material support to terrorists;
-- In Seattle, where Earnest James Ujaama pleaded guilty to providing
support to the Taliban.
The Justice Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and state
and local law enforcement agencies have been using all available legal
tools to detect, to disrupt and to dismantle terrorist threats here at
home.
This investigation highlights the importance of the law enforcement
tools, such as the USA PATRIOT Act, that the Justice Department, law
enforcement agencies and intelligence agencies have been able to use
to better communicate and coordinate complex, international
anti-terrorism operations. Because of this close cooperation, we are
thwarting terrorist operatives from further activities.
The case of Iyman Faris is but the latest.
Faris was born in Kashmir on June 4, 1969. He entered the United
States in May 1994 and became a United States citizen in December
1999. For several years he has worked as an independent truck driver
from his home base of Columbus, Ohio.
According to the plea documents, in late 2000, Faris traveled to
Pakistan and joined with a long-time friend and supporter of Al Qaeda
to travel to Afghanistan. There, at an Al Qaeda training camp, Faris
met with Osama Bin Laden.
During his stay in the camp, Faris was asked by one of Bin Laden's
lieutenants about obtaining information about "ultralight" airplanes.
Faris agreed to do so.
Approximately two months later, back in Pakistan, Faris admits that he
went to a Karachi Internet café and performed an online search. He
downloaded information about ultralight aircraft and provided it to an
Al Qaeda representative.
In late 2000 or early 2001 in Pakistan, Faris helped procure 2,000
sleeping bags that were shipped to Afghanistan for use by Osama Bin
Laden and Al Qaeda.
Faris also admits to visiting a Karachi travel agency, where, wearing
a disguise, he obtained extensions on five or six airline tickets so
that Al Qaeda operatives could travel to Yemen.
In early 2002, Faris performed another service to Al Qaeda, delivering
cash and cell phones to a senior Al Qaeda operative. In this meeting
with a terrorist leader, Faris outlined his job as a truck driver,
detailing his routes and deliveries for airport cargo planes. The
senior Al Qaeda operative was interested in the cargo planes,
according to Faris, because they would hold "more weight and more
fuel."
During this meeting, in early 2002, Faris says he was told of Al Qaeda
plans for yet another simultaneous operation in New York City and
Washington, D.C. The plans included destroying a bridge in New York
City by severing its suspension cables.
Faris was asked to assist in providing the equipment for the
operation. His main task was procuring what the Al Qaeda leaders
called "gas cutters" that could burn through the bridge cables. Faris
was instructed to refer to them in code as "gas stations" in any
subsequent communications with Al Qaeda.
Faris also was instructed to purchase the necessary equipment that
would allow Al Qaeda operatives to derail trains. Communications were
to be made through the Internet. In messages to the Al Qaeda leader,
these derailment tools were to be referred to as "mechanics shops."
Upon returning to the United States from Pakistan in April 2002, Faris
admits to performing Internet research on "gas cutters" and a bridge
in New York City. Faris also approached an acquaintance with technical
knowledge and asked about obtaining "gas cutters."
Between April 2002 and March 2003, Faris confirms he sent several
coded e-mail messages indicating that he was still trying to obtain
"gas stations" and "mechanics shops."
In late 2002, Faris admits to traveling to New York. After casing the
particular bridge, he concluded that the plot to destroy the bridge
was unlikely to succeed because of the bridge's security and
structure. He sent a coded message to his Al Qaeda contact, which
stated, "The weather is too hot." This message conveyed the
defendant's assessment that the bridge plot was unlikely to succeed.
It is clear from this plea agreement that Al Qaeda knew that Faris,
wrapped in the cloak of American citizenship, and protected by the
liberties of our Republic, could travel unfettered and undetected from
country to country, state to state, city to city.
This case has many of the hallmarks we have come to recognize in Al
Qaeda operations: recruitment of sympathetic operatives, extensive
planning and travel inside several countries, and extensive use of
hard-to-track communications such cell phones and the Internet cafes.
In apprehending Faris and reaching this plea agreement, we have taken
another American-based Al Qaeda operative off the streets, who
appeared to be a hard-working American trucker, but secretly scouted
terrorist strikes that could have killed many of his fellow citizens.
Using the new information-sharing system implemented since the 9/11
attacks, the threat information that Faris provided was promptly
disseminated through the intelligence, law enforcement, and homeland
security communities, to make them aware of the threats and allow them
to properly and promptly respond.
This case highlights the very real threats that still exist here at
home in this war against terrorism.
To our enemies, this case sends a clear message that the United States
will continue to be vigilant against all threats, whether they come
from overseas or here at home.
To our citizens, this case sends a clear message that your government
will continue to respect the rule of law, while doing everything in
its power to prevent terrorist attacks.
I thank Criminal Section Acting Assistant Attorney General Chris Wray,
who has joined me here today; and the Federal Bureau of Investigation,
under the leadership of Director Robert Mueller; Pat D'Amuro, the
FBI's executive assistant director for counterterrorism and
counterintelligence is here, and I thank him for his hard work and
service.
I also thank U.S. Attorney Greg Lockhart of the Southern District of
Ohio and U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty of the Eastern District of
Virginia; these offices worked together on this investigation.
Thanks also to the Counterterrorism Section of the Justice
Department's Criminal Division, headed by Barry Sabin, and prosecutors
Joe Kaster from the Counterterrorism Section and Neil Hammerstrom of
the Eastern District of Virginia, and Dana Peters of the Southern
District of Ohio.
(end text)
(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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