Two Pakistani men and a U.S. citizen unexpectedly ended their legal fight against extradition to the United States on terrorism- related charges early today, telling a court here that they are prepared to face trial in America.
Syed Saadat Ali Faraz, 54, Muhammed Abid Afridi, 29, and naturalized American citizen Ilyas Ali, 55, had resisted transfer to the United States on charges that they offered to trade large volumes of heroin and hashish for four U.S.-made Stinger antiaircraft missiles to sell to members of the Al Qaeda terrorist network.
The three were arrested in September after they allegedly tried to negotiate the deal with undercover FBI agents posing as interested sellers at a Hong Kong hotel.
The men appeared briefly in court in November and said they would fight extradition in what was scheduled to be a weeklong hearing that began early today. The defendants' chief lawyer, Jonathan Acton-Bond, admitted that he was unaware of their decision to accept extradition until he arrived at the courthouse today.
The men were scheduled to return to court this afternoon to formally sign the extradition paperwork. Because documents in such a case must be approved by Hong Kong's chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, it could be several weeks before the three are actually transported to the United States, a Hong Kong official said.
A spokesman at the U.S. Consulate declined to comment on the development, stating only that it would be "inappropriate" to do so in an ongoing legal matter.
Shortly after their arrest, the three men had agreed to be transported to the U.S. to face prosecution for alleged drug peddling, but then decided to resist when terrorism-related charges were added. The men were indicted by a San Diego federal grand jury in connection with evidence they had tried to purchase the missiles.
Until now, Faraz had been identified by officials as Syed Mustajab Shah, but he told the court today that he had given that name falsely.
U.S. Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft referred to the case in November as a reminder of what he termed "the toxic combination of drugs and terrorism and the threats they can pose to our national security."
The men are charged with conspiracy to import heroin and hashish, conspiracy to distribute them 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.