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Detained Yemeni cleric boasts of financing al-Qaida

©Associated Press
March 5, 2003

NEW YORK -- A Yemeni cleric detained in Germany bragged to an FBI informant that he supplied $20-million, recruits and weapons to Osama bin Laden in the years leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks, U.S. officials said Tuesday.

Much of the money came from contributors in the United States, including worshipers at the Al Farouq mosque in New York, Attorney General John Ashcroft said in announcing charges against Sheik Mohammed Al Hasan Al-Moayad.

Amid an undercover operation, Al-Moayad "boasted that jihad was his field, and trumpeted his involvement in providing money, recruits and supplies to al-Qaida, Hamas and other terrorist groups," Ashcroft told the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington.

Al-Moayad, 54, identified at least five individuals in New York as sources of secret funding, including Brooklyn business owners, according to a complaint unsealed in federal court in New York Tuesday. An informant met with those people late last year and secretly recorded conversations about money smuggling.

A man who answered the phone at the Al Farouq mosque would not discuss the case.

Al-Moayad, known in Yemen for his charity work and political connections, was arrested Jan. 10 along with his assistant, Mohammed Mohsen Yahya Zayed, at a hotel near the Frankfurt, Germany, airport.

The complaint charges Al-Moayad with providing material support to a terrorist network. U.S. authorities, who had previously refused to discuss the case, consider his arrest a blow to Muslim charities used as fronts to finance terrorism.

If convicted in the United States, Al-Moayad would face up to 60 years in prison. Zayed, 29, would face 30 years.

A lawyer for Al-Moayad has accused U.S. authorities of fabricating the charges against his client.

Al-Moayad, a leading member of Yemen's Islamic-oriented Reform party and a former legislator, left Yemen for treatment of diabetes in Germany 10 days before his arrest, Yemeni officials said. His political party has protested the arrest, and Yemen has asked German authorities to return him.

Court papers say U.S. and German authorities learned in December 2001 that Al-Moayad was involved in supplying money and militants for al-Qaida.

An informant who knew Al-Moayad was recruited to lure him to a bugged hotel room, where he was introduced to another informant posing as a wealthy American Muslim. The second informant told Al-Moayad he wanted to donate $2-million "for jihad against American and Zionist governments," papers said.

Al-Moayad allegedly claimed he was one of bin Laden's spiritual advisers, and assured the informant that "the money would be used to support the Mujahedeen fighters of both al-Qaida and Hamas," the papers said.

On Tuesday, Ashcroft used the arrest of Al-Moayad as an example of how the United States is gaining ground in the global war on terrorism.

Facing a Senate Judiciary Committee that includes prominent administration critics, Ashcroft, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and FBI director Robert Mueller highlighted recent successes and stressed prevention efforts.

Lawmakers applauded the victories -- but many questioned the government's tactics and the need to expand antiterrorism laws that raise constitutional questions.

To date, more than 200 criminal terrorism charges have been brought since the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, Ashcroft said, with 108 convictions or guilty pleas. Mueller added that "well in excess of 100" terrorism plots have been thwarted worldwide.

Ashcroft said some of the successes were the result of antiterrorism laws passed by Congress soon after Sept. 11 that expanded the powers of the Justice Department and FBI to spy on terror suspects and use intelligence information to bring criminal cases.

Some lawmakers say the current powers threaten civil liberties and have sharply criticized a leaked Justice Department draft proposal to augment the law.

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