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British citizen was profiteer { August 14 2003 }

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Details emerge of three-nation missle sting
Arrested British citizen was profiteer; not terrorist, officials say

By Rebecca Carr and Eunice Moscoso


Thursday, August 14, 2003

WASHINGTON -- In a plot worthy of a spy novel, a British arms dealer was charged Wednesday with attempting to sell surface-to-air missiles to a government informant posing as an Islamic terrorist wanting to shoot down a commercial plane.

Law enforcement officials say they do not think Hemant Lakhani, 68, is connected to a specific terrorist group but rather was motivated by profit in the nefarious underworld of illegal arms dealing.

But in some of the 150 conversations between Lakhani and the informant that were recorded during the 18-month investigation, Lakhani is heard criticizing Americans and praising terror mastermind Osama bin Laden, court documents show.

In one discussion, taped Jan. 17, 2002, Lakhani said bin Laden had "straightened them all out" and "did a good thing" by masterminding the al Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001, according to the court documents.

And at a meeting at a hotel overlooking Newark International Airport on Sept. 17, 2002, the pair discussed how the missile would be illegally imported and how it would be used to take down a commercial aircraft, according to the documents.

Lakhani verified with the informant that the purpose of shooting down a commercial aircraft was to cause the United States economic harm, the documents said. Lakhani allegedly said it would "make one explosion . . . to shake the economy."

Federal investigators arrested Lakhani on Tuesday in Newark after they said he completed the sale of the Russian SA-18 Igla, a missile capable of knocking out a commercial airliner.

Lakhani had planned to sell at least 50 more missiles and more than a ton of C-4 plastic explosive to the informant, who had convinced Lakhani that he was representing a Somali terrorist organization sympathetic to bin Laden, according to the criminal complaint filed in federal court in New Jersey.

The Russian government, working with the United States, supplied the missile in Lakhani's possession at the time of his arrest and ensured that it was inoperable, court documents said.

Lakhani was charged with attempting to provide material support and resources to a terrorist group and acting as an arms broker without a license. U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Wigenton ordered Lakhani held without bail pending a custody hearing Monday. If convicted on both charges, he could face up to 25 years in prison and a $1.25 million fine.

"The terrorists who have threatened America lost an ally in their attempts to kill our citizens," U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie said after Lakhani's court appearance Wednesday.

The investigation, carried out by local, state and federal agencies in the United States, Britain and Russia, was initiated after Lakhani began boasting that he could obtain weapons in St. Petersburg, Russia. In December 2001, the government informant, under the direction of the FBI, began to discuss obtaining anti-aircraft guns and missiles from Lakhani.

The informant repeatedly told Lakhani the missiles were for a "jihad," and that the Somali terrorist group wanted to strike a plane and "want(ed) to hit the people over here."

Lakhani allegedly responded by saying, "The Americans are bastards," according to court documents.

Two other defendants were arrested Tuesday for allegedly helping Lakhani facilitate the financial transactions for the missiles.

Yehuda Abraham, a 76-year-old jeweler from New York's diamond district, accepted a $30,000 down payment on behalf of Lakhani for the first missile, investigators said. Moinuddeen Ahmed Hameed of Malaysia came to the United States on Tuesday to collect a $500,000 down payment on the $5 million price tag for the 50 other missiles, investigators said.

Both men are charged with conspiring to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business, but neither was charged with any terrorism- related offenses.

The specter of a terrorist organization such as al Qaeda using a shoulder-fired missile has been of growing concern on Capitol Hill and among counterterrorism officials because of their abundant supply on the black market and the fear that terrorist groups will use them to strike civilians.

Surface-to-air missiles are easily found in war-riven countries such as Afghanistan, where the United States and Russia dumped thousands during the Afghan war in the 1980s.

Glenn McGonnigle, CEO of VistaScape Security Systems, said the missiles are easy to use.

"These things are lightweight. They're portable. And it doesn't take a Navy SEAL . . . to go out and operate these things. A little bit of instruction and these guys can do it," he said.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., introduced legislation in the Senate earlier this year calling for the federal government to equip all commercial aircraft with anti-missile technology.

The Bush administration has not embraced the idea, citing the estimated $10 billion price tag for outfitting the nation's 6,800 commercial planes with the missile-fighting equipment.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., sent a letter to President Bush Wednesday demanding action on the legislation.

Brian Roehrkasse, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, said U.S. intelligence does not have any information that indicates al Qaeda or any other terrorist organization has these weapons or intends to use them to attack the United States.

But Schumer and Boxer contend that at least 27 terrorist groups have shoulder-fired missiles.

This article contains material from other wire services.

Bbc blamed for foiling fbi alqaeda plan
British citizen was profiteer { August 14 2003 }
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International arms dealer sting
Jeweler out on bail missile sting { August 21 2003 }
Lakhani says osama did good thing { August 13 2003 }
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