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3 extradited in alleged airport plot

The Caribbean men, accused of planning to blow up fuel lines at JFK, could get life in prison if convicted.

June 26, 2008|Josh Meyer | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Three Caribbean men were extradited Wednesday to the United States and ordered held without bail on charges stemming from their alleged involvement in a terrorist plot last year to attack New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, U.S. officials said.

Kareem Ibrahim, Abdul Kadir and Abdel Nur were flown from Trinidad and Tobago to New York, where they were arraigned and pleaded not guilty to various charges, including conspiring to attack a public transportation system and conspiring to destroy a building by fire or explosives.

The men, among them a Muslim cleric and a former opposition member of Guyana's parliament, face life in prison if convicted on all charges. Prosecutors and the FBI allege that they plotted to blow up fuel lines and tanks at one of the nation's busiest airports to undermine the U.S. economy.

The three were ordered held without bail by U.S. Magistrate Judge Cheryl L. Pollak pending an Aug. 7 hearing in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn.

Since their arrests last year, the men have asserted their innocence. On Wednesday, the court-appointed lawyer for Ibrahim, 63, said he could not comment in detail on the case because he had not yet seen the evidence that the government says it has.

Michael Hueston said the men should be considered innocent until proved guilty despite the high-profile nature of the case, which garnered headlines around the world last year after authorities announced that they had disrupted one of the few alleged terrorist plots on U.S. soil since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"There shouldn't be a rush to judgment about this case," Hueston said. "I think, unfortunately, that people get tried in the press too often in these cases."

A Trinidad and Tobago judge had ordered the three men extradited in February, and an appellate court upheld that decision this week. They had been jailed in Trinidad and Tobago for much of the last year on charges of conspiring with a fourth defendant, Russell Defreitas, whom prosecutors describe as the ringleader.

Defense attorneys have sought to portray New York-based Defreitas, 64, as a bumbling malcontent and say that a confidential FBI informant angling for leniency on legal problems entrapped him and the others into participating in the alleged plot.

Defreitas, a retired JFK cargo worker and American citizen, also has pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court. But federal authorities in New York and Washington say that the men not only plotted the attack but also bragged about it and took some physical action -- including surveillance -- toward launching it.

Robert Nardoza, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Brooklyn, said he could not comment further on the case or discuss what specifically ties the three Caribbean men to Defreitas. "We are going to do our speaking in court," Nardoza said. "The indictment speaks for itself. They are facing life in prison."

Some U.S. law enforcement officials have conceded privately that Defreitas was not capable of mounting the kind of attack that could do serious damage to the airport and its well-protected web of fuel pipelines and tanks. Authorities have not alleged, for instance, that Defreitas had explosives, money or an executable plan.

But they said one of the most alarming aspects of the case was that he was able to link up with the three suspected Islamic extremists from the Caribbean to further the plot. Some of the men's conversations were secretly taped by an undercover FBI informant, according to court documents filed in the case.

"The defendants are charged with serious violations," said Dean Boyd, a spokesman for the Justice Department's National Security Division in Washington, which is supporting the prosecution of the case. "Obviously, we're pleased that they are here now to face prosecution on the charges against them."

The transfer of the three men is one of several recent successful extraditions for the Justice Department, which had suffered numerous legal frustrations in the years after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Colombia just extradited 14 members of a right-wing paramilitary group known as the AUC. Monzer Kassar, an accused international arms dealer, was extradited from Spain on terrorism charges this month, and three other accused terrorists were extradited from the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Britain last year.

But many other extraditions have been hung up in court, often for many years, and at times they have been opposed by allies that won't go along with U.S. efforts to put terrorists to death.

Boyd said that each extradition depends on the law of the country involved and that many nations grant suspected terrorists extensive rights of appeal that have to be fully exhausted before they can be extradited. Some other countries don't have extradition treaties with the United States.

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