Friday, Aug 15, 2003
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By Sridhar Krishnaswami
Prosecutors described the 68-year-old Lakhani as a "significant international arms dealer". According to papers filed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Lakhani who is being held without bond had not only arranged to sell a shoulder-fired missile that can bring down a commercial airliner but also planned to smuggle 50 more missiles.
The FBI papers noted that in conversations with an undercover agent, Lakhani had reportedly remarked that Osama bin Laden "did a good thing" on September 11, 2001. Lakhani was picked up in New Jersey and two others in Manhattan in New York City who had been "recruited" for the missile transactions.
However, Lakhani is not considered as belonging to the Al-Qaeda or any other terrorist organisation. If convicted, he could face a 15-year sentence.
Authorities have also filed money-laundering charges against Mouinuddeen Ahmad Hameed, a 38-year-old Indian living in Malaysia.
According to the prosecutors, Hameed had been asked to come over by Lakhani to launder a $500,000 down payment for the 50 additional missiles that were being sought by undercover sleuths. Yehuda Abraham, a 76-year-old man from New York City, has also been charged with money laundering. Attorneys for both these men maintained that their clients did not know they were dealing with "terrorists".
The Director of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, said the operation should send a message to terrorists that the United States meant business. "... We'll just keep coming at you, one arms dealer, one cell at a time." And from Texas, the U.S. President, George W. Bush, said Lakhani's arrest showed that the administration was fighting terrorism seriously.
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