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2 Convicted of Seeking Missiles for Al Qaeda Ally

March 04, 2004|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — A Pakistani national and a naturalized American pleaded guilty Wednesday to a conspiracy to help the Al Qaeda terrorist group by selling five tons of hashish and a half-ton of heroin in exchange for money and four Stinger missiles.

Muhamed Abid Afridi, 30, and a naturalized citizen from India, Ilyas Ali, 56, admitted in U.S. District Court here that they planned to sell the missiles to the Taliban, an ally of Al Qaeda.

Afridi, Ali and a second Pakistani were arrested in Hong Kong in September 2002 after meeting with undercover FBI agents posing as arms dealers with Stingers to sell. They allegedly offered to sell the agents heroin and hashish in return for missiles and money.

"They both had the will and the means to carry out the transaction they were negotiating," said Assistant U.S. Atty. Michael Skerlos.

Stingers are shoulder-launched missiles distributed widely by the CIA to Afghan rebels fighting the Soviet army in the 1980s. Easy to use and deadly accurate at hitting low-flying aircraft, Stingers were credited with helping the Afghans demoralize and rout the much stronger Soviets.

"Because of the actions taken in this investigation, America is safer and our citizens are more secure," Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft said in a statement.

Initial meetings between Ali and the FBI agents occurred in San Diego, according to court documents. Afridi and Ali are scheduled to be sentenced June 29 by Judge M. James Lorenz; a plea bargain recommends that each be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison.

The case against the second Pakistani, Syed Mustajab Shah, has a court date April 5.

Ali was a grocer in Minneapolis before his arrest.

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