July 11, 2006

Afghan pleads guilty to drug charge in New York

By Christine Kearney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - An Afghan drug lord accused of
conspiring to ship $25 million worth of heroin into the United
States pleaded guilty to a federal drug charge on Tuesday.

"Yes, I'm guilty," Baz Mohammad, 48, told judge Denny Chin
in Manhattan federal court. As part of his plea agreement, he
admitted he was a major player in "the substance business" and
"the powder business" of importing heroin.

He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison but is likely
to serve between 15 and 20 years when he is sentenced on
November 1, according to sentencing guidelines outlined by the

When Mohammad was indicted in October 2005, prosecutors
said he had provided financial support to Afghanistan's former
Taliban rulers in exchange for their protection and described
his smuggling activities as a "jihad."

But the one count of conspiring to violate narcotics laws
between 1990 and 2005 that he pleaded guilty to on Tuesday did
not mention Taliban or jihad.

Defense lawyers and prosecutors declined comment as they
left court.

Last year President Bush called Mohammad one of the world's
most wanted drug kingpins.

U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia said in October Mohammad was
the first Afghan drug kingpin to be extradited. He had been
arrested in Afghanistan in January 2005.

Garcia said at the time that during meetings with Pakistani
co-conspirators, Mohammad had said, "selling heroin in the U.S.
was a jihad because they took the Americans' money and at the
same time the heroin they sold was killing them."

Mohammad controlled opium fields in Afghanistan's Nangarhar
province, the second largest opium-producing region, and used
laboratories in Afghanistan and Pakistan to convert opium to
heroin before smuggling it into the United States, his
indictment said.

Mohammad admitted in court on Tuesday he met with
co-conspirators in Pakistan and discussed importing shipments
of heroin into the United States that were later seized by U.S.
law enforcement.

Prosecutors said Mohammad's co-conspirators had agreed to
cooperate and that there were also taped phone calls to an
undercover informant in which Mohammad discussed the heroin