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Vietnamese Man Pleads Guilty in US to Helping Al-Qaida Affiliate

Minh Quang Pham, 33, pleaded guilty in Manhattan federal court to to U.S. terrorism charges, Jan. 8, 2016.

A Vietnamese man who prosecutors said traveled to Yemen to join an al-Qaida affiliate and was instructed there to detonate an explosive at London's Heathrow Airport pleaded guilty to U.S. terrorism charges Friday.

Minh Quang Pham, 33, pleaded guilty in Manhattan federal court to three counts — including that he provided material support to al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula — three weeks before he was set to face trial.

Speaking in a quiet voice, Pham admitted to providing support to the Islamic militant group.

Prosecutors have said that Pham, who had attended a university in South London, while in Yemen also directly trained with Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born radical Islamic cleric who was killed in a 2011 U.S. drone attack.

In court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Buckley said that after his arrest, Pham admitted that al-Awlaki instructed him in how to make an explosive device out of household materials.

Buckley said al-Awlaki "directed Pham to return to the United Kingdom, where he was to construct and detonate the device at the arrival area of Heathrow." Buckley added that al-Awlaki gave Pham $10,000 for the plot.

Oath, training

Bobbi Sternheim, Pham's lawyer, said her client accepted "full responsibility" for the charges to which he pleaded. But she said there was "no proof" Pham did anything to follow through with causing any harm at Heathrow.

Pham faces a mandatory minimum of 30 years in prison and a maximum term of life. He is scheduled to be sentenced April 14.

Prosecutors said Pham traveled from the United Kingdom to Yemen in December 2010 and took an oath of allegiance to the militant group, which the United States lists as a terrorist organization. He spent a year in Yemen, where he received "military-type" training and helped prepare the group's magazine, Inspire, working directly with Samir Khan, a U.S. citizen who served as its editor and died in a U.S. drone strike in 2011.

Pham returned to the United Kingdom in July 2011, where he was detained at Heathrow. Authorities discovered various items, including a live round of .762 caliber armor-piercing ammunition.

He was subsequently arrested in the United Kingdom in June 2012 at the request of U.S. authorities and extradited to the United States in February 2015.