Two Pakistanis and an Indian-born U.S. citizen told a Hong Kong court today that they have agreed to be extradited to the United States on charges that they plotted to swap drugs for anti-aircraft missiles to sell to the Al Qaeda terror network.
The men were caught in September in an FBI sting operation by undercover agents who say the three offered to provide hashish and heroin in exchange for four shoulder-fired Stinger missiles, which experts say would be capable of shooting down civilian jetliners flying at low altitudes.
Little is known about the defendants. A U.S. indictment originally identified one as Syed Mustajab Shah, 54, of Peshawar, Pakistan. But speaking today through an Urdu-language interpreter in court, he said that was the name of his father and that his real name is Syed Saadat Ali Faraz.
The others are Muhammed Abid Afridi, 29, also of Peshawar, and naturalized U.S. citizen Ilyas Ali, 55, of Minneapolis. They have been jailed here since Hong Kong police arrested them Sept. 20.
They were due to return to court later today to formally sign extradition documents. The extradition must still be approved by Hong Kong's leader, Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, a process that is likely to take several weeks.
Defense lawyer Jonathan Acton-Bond declined to comment on why his clients had decided not to fight extradition. He said that he discovered their intentions only this morning and that he intended to apologize to the court later for not having given more notice.
U.S. Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft has called the case a reminder "of the toxic combination of drugs and terrorism and the threats they can pose to our national security."
According to an indictment in U.S. District Court in San Diego, the three men met in September with undercover FBI agents in a Hong Kong hotel, where they agreed to sell 5 tons of hashish and 1,300 pounds of heroin. Before that meeting, Ali met in April with undercover FBI agents in San Diego to discuss drug deals, the indictment says.
In Hong Kong, the defendants allegedly agreed to take Stinger missiles as payment for the drugs. They also allegedly told the FBI agents that they would sell the missiles to Al Qaeda.
The men are charged with conspiracy to import heroin and hashish, conspiracy to distribute heroin and hashish and providing material support to a terrorist organization. The drug charges each carry up to life in prison and fines of $4 million, while supporting terrorists carries up to 15 years and a fine of $250,000.