U.S. law enforcement authorities announced Thursday they have reached a plea agreement with an American truck driver and suspected al-Qaida terrorist operative who is cooperating with government investigators. Thirty-four-year-old Iyman Faris of Columbus, Ohio, a naturalized American citizen from Kashmir, has pleaded guilty to two counts of providing material support to the al-Qaida terrorist network.
As part of the plea agreement, Faris has been telling prosecutors about his scouting trips on behalf of al-Qaida to look at potential terrorist targets including a bridge in New York City.
The plea agreement was reached on May 1 but only made public Thursday. Attorney General John Ashcroft detailed Faris' involvement with al-Qaida at a Washington news conference.
"It is clear from this plea agreement that al-Qaida knew that Faris, wrapped in his cloak of American citizenship and protected by the liberties of our free nation, could travel unfettered and undetected from country to country, from state to state and from city to city here at home," said Mr. Ashcroft.
Mr. Ashcroft says Faris met with al-Qaida operatives including Osama bin Laden in a series of trips to Pakistan and Afghanistan between late 2000 and April of 2002. It is believed that Faris received instructions from Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a senior al-Qaida leader now in U.S. custody overseas who is helping investigators.
During those trips, Faris says al-Qaida operatives expressed interest in finding out about both ultralight aircraft and cargo planes. According to the plea agreement, a senior al-Qaida leader told Faris the terrorists were planning simultaneous attacks in New York and Washington and that he was asked to assess the possibility of attacking a bridge in New York City with gas cutters to sever the bridge cables. It is believed the bridge in question was the Brooklyn Bridge. Faris says al-Qaida was also planning to derail trains in the United States.
Faris has told prosecutors that he looked into the possibility of acquiring gas cutters but that he eventually sent a coded e-mail message to al-Qaida in which he concluded that the bridge attack would not succeed.
Attorney General Ashcroft says he wants the arrest of Faris and the fact that he is cooperating with investigators to serve as a warning to al-Qaida.
"This case highlights the very real threats that still exist here at home in the United States of America in the war against terrorism," said Mr. Ashcroft. "To our enemies, let this case send a clear message that the United States will continue to be vigilant against all threats, whether they come from overseas or whether they are home grown."
Faris came to the United States in 1994 and became a citizen five years later. He is scheduled to be sentenced in August and could be sent to jail for up to 20 years.