Chicago: A Chicago taxi driver of Pakistani origin, who claims to have known al Qaeda-linked HuJI chief Ilyas Kashmiri for 15 years, was arrested here by the FBI on charges of providing material support and funds to the terror outfit of Osama bin Laden.
Raja Lahrasib Khan, 56, was arrested at about 8 am yesterday (6:30 pm IST) from downtown Chicago as he was waiting in his cab for customers. Later in the day, he was produced before US Magistrate Judge Geraldine Soat Brown for his initial court appearance at US District court here.
Half-bald, with a short white beard, Khan, attired in blue track pants, a check shirt and blue jacket, was seen talking to staff attorney Daniel Mclaughlin, who was appointed for him under the Federal Defender`s programme. The judge asked Khan -- against whom a 35-page complaint affidavit was filed - to state his name and age and informed him of his rights. He told the judge that he is a US citizen and "does not have a dual Pakistani citizenship".
Federal prosecutors then read out the charges against Khan, who said "yes" he understood them. The court granted the prosecutors` request to "detain Khan pending trial in the case" as he could be a "danger to the community".
A status hearing in the case has been set for March 30, by when an attorney would be appointed for Khan, a diabetic. Khan, a resident of the city`s north side, was charged with two counts of providing material support to terrorism in a criminal complaint that was filed on Friday in US District Court and unsealed yesterday following his arrest.
Each count of providing material support to a foreign terror group carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison, a USD 250,000 fine and three years of supervised release. Khan, who became a naturalised US citizen in 1988, also allegedly discussed attacking a stadium in the US this summer, officials said.
Khan is being held at the federal lock-up Metropolitan Correctional Centre where 26/11 plotter David Coleman Headley and co-accused Tahawwur Hussain Rana are also detained. His arrest came five months after Headley and Rana were held. A US Attorney`s office spokesman said Khan works for a "small cab company that runs a couple of taxis. Khan drives one of the cabs".
The US Attorney`s office said investigation leading to Khan`s arrest is unrelated to the terrorism charges against Rana and Headley in connection with the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai and a plot to attack targets in Denmark.
"While there was no imminent danger in the Chicago area or elsewhere, these charges, once again, affirm that law enforcement must remain constantly vigilant to guard against domestic support of foreign terrorist organisations," US Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois Patrick Fitzgerald said.
FBI`s Special Agent-in-Charge in Chicago Robert Grant said over the past six months, FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Forces across the country have "disrupted plots, charged and apprehended a number of individuals and secured significant intelligence, which has been of benefit here and to our allies overseas". According to the affidavit, Khan, who claims to have known Kashmiri for approximately 15 years, learned in 2008 that Kashmiri was working with al Qaeda and purportedly receiving orders from Osama bin Laden.
"According to Khan, during his meeting or meetings with Kashmiri, Khan learned that Kashmiri wanted to train operatives to conduct attacks in the US. Kashmiri showed Khan a video depicting the detonation of an improvised explosive device and told him that he needed money, in any amount, to be able to purchase materials from the black market," the complaint said. Kashmiri is a leader of Pakistan-based Harakat ul-Jihad-I-Islami (HuJI) which has al Qaeda links.
The charges against Khan allege that on November 23, 2009, he transferred approximately USD 950 from a currency exchange here to Individual A in Pakistan`s region of "either Mirpur or Bhimber". Khan later spoke with Individual A by telephone and instructed him to give "Lala" 25,000 Pakistani rupees (approximately USD 300) of the money he had sent.
According to the affidavit, Khan told an undercover agent that "Lala", which means "older brother" in Urdu, is a nickname he uses to refer to Kashmiri. He told the agent he had met Kashmiri most recently in 2008 in Miran Shah in northwest Pakistan. Khan also told the agent that he believed his telephones were being monitored, and if Khan or the undercover agent were ever questioned about their discussions regarding "Lala", they should claim to have been referring to Khan`s actual older brother.
"Just two weeks ago, on March 11, Khan and an associate, identified as `Individual B`, allegedly had a discussion during which they appeared to talk about attacking a stadium in the US in August. Among other things, Khan described that bags containing remote controlled bombs could be placed in several different locations, and then "boom, boom, boom, boom," the complaint said.
Khan further said he would ask Lala (Kashmiri) to teach him how to conduct such an attack, the complaint added. However, there are no allegations that Khan either knew Kashmiri`s current whereabouts or had yet discussed his stadium plan with him.
On March 17, after agreeing to personally deliver to Kashmiri any funds that the undercover agent wanted to provide, Khan allegedly accepted USD 1,000 from the agent. The complaint states that Khan accepted these funds after having prior conversations with the undercover agent in which Khan confirmed that Kashmiri was working with al Qaeda.
Khan assured that Kashmiri would use the undercover agent`s funds to purchase weapons and other supplies. He also assured that he had provided Kashmiri with money in the past, including in December 2009, and discussed the possibility of having his son transport the money from the US to England, "where Khan would rendezvous with his son, retrieve the money and deliver it to Kashmiri in Pakistan".
On March 23, government agents at Chicago’s O`Hare International Airport came in contact with Khan`s son, who was travelling to England. The agents discovered that Khan`s son possessed seven of the ten USD 100 bills that the undercover agent had given to Khan, according to the affidavit.