June 28, 2005

Two men plead not guilty in NY to aiding al Qaeda

By Christine Kearney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York martial arts expert and aFlorida doctor, accused of conspiring to aid al Qaeda members,pleaded not guilty at their arraignment on Tuesday.

Tarik Ibn Osman Shah a martial arts expert and jazzmusician from New York's Bronx borough and Rafiq Sabir, a BocaRaton, Florida, doctor, were indicted at Manhattan federalcourt on Monday, charged with conspiring to provide materialsupport to al Qaeda between December 2001 and May 2005.

Both men were arrested in late May after a two-year stingoperation in which prosecutors said the men were taped pledgingsupport to Osama bin Laden.

Prosecutors said the men had multiple meetings andconversations with a confidential source and undercover FBIagent, who was acting as an al Qaeda recruiter.

Shah, 42, agreed to provide hand-to-hand combat training toal Qaeda members, while Sabir, 51, said he would give medicalhelp to wounded jihad fighters, the complaint said. There areno claims either man actually provided support to al Qaeda.

After their arraignment on Tuesday, lawyers for the men,who are being held in a high-security prison, said they stillhad to review the tapes, which are in English and Arabic.

Shah's lawyer, Anthony Ricco, called the concept of hisclient training al Qaeda members "ridiculous at face value."Sabir's lawyer, Martin Stolar, said the set-up was typicallyhow the U.S. government fought the war on terrorism.

"He (Sabir) is an innocent man who has been ensnared in anFBI sting," said Stolar, who said his client was captured onone 90-minute-long tape on May 20, 2005.

If convicted, each man faces a maximum of 15 years inprison and a fine of $250,000.

At Shah's initial hearing, Ricco questioned why it wouldtake the government two years to file a complaint ifauthorities really believed he was a threat to security.

The charges marked "a desperate prosecution on the part ofthe government," Ricco said. "He wouldn't be here if he wasn'ta Muslim."