Cleric Tied to Terror Is Extradited to U.S.

Times Staff Writer

An Islamic cleric from Yemen who allegedly raised $20 million for Osama bin Laden, including contributions from a Brooklyn mosque, has been extradited from Germany to the United States to face charges that he helped bankroll terrorist activities, the Justice Department said Monday.

Mohammed Al Hasan Al-Moayad was arrested in Frankfurt on Jan. 10 after allegedly admitting to an undercover FBI informant that he had delivered money -- along with arms and communication equipment -- to both Al Qaeda and the militant Palestinian Islamic group Hamas. He and an alleged assistant, Mohammed Mohsen Yahya Zayed, subsequently were charged in U.S. district court in Brooklyn with providing material support to terrorists.

The arrests, and American authorities' efforts to bring the men to the United States for trial, have strained relations between the U.S. and Yemen -- an ally in the war on terrorism. Attorneys for Al-Moayad and Zayed have argued that the sting amounted to entrapment; Yemeni officials appealed to the Germans to return the men, citizens of Yemen, to their homeland.

In a sign that the tension was continuing, the U.S. Embassy in the Yemeni capital, Sana, on Monday urged American citizens in that country to step up personal security precautions, warning that the extradition could trigger anti-American sentiment. The extradition request was approved last week by Germany's highest court.

After being flown to New York on Sunday, Al-Moayad and Zayed were arraigned in Brooklyn federal court Monday and jailed without bond, U.S. officials said.

The case illustrates a U.S.-led crackdown on informal money transfer networks known as hawalas, which federal officials believe have been used to funnel funds to terrorists.

Al-Moayad, a prominent religious and political figure in the Yemeni capital, is associated with its largest mosque and is a leader of a pro-Islamic-oriented opposition party.

U.S. officials said they first suspected Al-Moayad had provided support to Al Qaeda and Hamas in December 2001. Eventually, along with German authorities, they constructed an elaborate sting operation that included a government informant posing as a wealthy American Muslim to lure Al-Moayad from Yemen to a Frankfurt airport hotel.

In a series of meetings, the government's complaint alleges, Al-Moayad admitted providing money and support to moujahedeen fighters in Afghanistan, Chechnya and Kashmir. He also said he had personally delivered $20 million to Bin Laden, with much of the cash coming from contributions made in the United States.

Some of the donations, the government alleges, were collected at the Al-Farouq mosque in Brooklyn, the gathering place for Egyptian cleric Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind sheik who is serving a life sentence for conspiring to blow up New York City landmarks and also kill Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

The complaint against Zayed alleges that he joined Al-Moayad at meetings with government informants and "swore to Allah" that a financial contribution to Al-Moayad would be used to support Al Qaeda and Hamas.

Both Al-Moayad and Zayed were charged under a federal law that prohibits anyone from providing or conspiring to provide material support to foreign terrorist organizations, as designated by the State Department. If convicted, Al-Moayad would face up to 60 years in prison; Zayed, who faces a conspiracy charge, could be jailed for up to 30 years.

"This case targets the lifeline of the Al Qaeda and Hamas terrorist organizations," Roslynn R. Mauskopf, the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, said in a statement.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World