Two Men Face Charges of Aiding Al Qaeda in the U.S.

Two African-American Muslims have been arrested on charges of aiding al Qaeda's network in the United States. The government says it has evidence of the two men swearing allegiance to Osama bin Laden. Member station WNYC's Bob Hennelly reports.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Federal prosecutors say two African-American Muslims swore allegiance to Osama bin Laden and offered to provide material support to al-Qaeda. From member station WNYC, Bob Hennelly reports.

BOB HENNELLY reporting:

The 18-page complaint alleges that from the summer of 2003 until just last month, 42-year-old Tarik Shah, a Bronx jazz musician and a martial arts teacher, along with his friend, 50-year-old Dr. Rafiq Sabir, conspired to provide help to al-Qaeda. The government says it has the pair on audiotape swearing a bayat, or oath of allegiance, to Osama bin Laden. Shah's also alleged to have scouted for a space in the city to conduct urban warfare classes in hand-to-hand combat as well as a suitable location for a machine shop to fabricate weapons. Anthony Ricco, Shah's lawyer, says the government targeted his client because of his Muslim faith.

Mr. ANTHONY RICCO (Shah's Lawyer): These cases are not religious prosecutions but they're prosecutions based upon people's religious beliefs.

HENNELLY: Both Shah and Sabir face 15 years in jail and a quarter of a million dollars in fines if convicted. At yesterday's arraignment, an upbeat but shackled Shah greeted the packed court gallery of supporters and press with the Arabic greeting, `May peace be upon you.' Supporters at Shah's arraignment included Melanie Dyer, who says she has performed with Shah who has also recorded with jazz vocalist Abbey Lincoln.

Ms. MELANIE DYER (Jazz Musician): My reaction was that, as I've said, he is a beautiful person and a wonderful musician and that it just didn't seem to fit.

HENNELLY: Prosecutors contend that Shah told a government informer that his work as a jazz musician was, quote, "the greatest cover." Shah's alleged to have been recorded offering to provide martial arts training as well as an instructional video and text to many thought were al-Qaeda recruiters but were government agents. Nothing was ever actually delivered.

Dr. Sabir, Shah's alleged accomplice and longtime friend, was arrested in Florida. He is being held there without bail and told a federal magistrate yesterday he did not yet have a lawyer. The government contends Sabir was headed for Saudi Arabia tomorrow where it's said he was going to provide medical care to injured members of al-Qaeda. In supporting papers, prosecutors say Sabir had told undercover agents he'd worked as a physician as recently as March of this year at a Saudi military hospital in Riyadh with credentials to travel around that kingdom easily.

In New York, Shah's lawyer denounced the government's sting operation tactics and use of confidential informants as dozens of Shah's supporters looked on.

Mr. RICCO: I've characterized this as desperate prosecution on the part of the government. You look at the way in which our nation has been attacked, the response has been to arrest people like Tarik Shah who but for a confidential informant and government involvement wouldn't be here. He'd be playing the bass at a club somewhere.

HENNELLY: Federal prosecutors have yet to speak publicly on the charges, but this latest case comes on the heels of two high-profile wins this year for the Department of Justice in which it successfully used an elaborate sting strategy to reel in what it alleged were supporters of global terrorism networks. One case tried in Brooklyn involved the Ammani sheik, charged with raising money, and the other targeted an Indian businessman trying to sell anti-aircraft missiles in New Jersey. Both men were found guilty.

For NPR News, I'm Bob Hennelly in New York.

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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