New Yorkers Charged with Providing Technical Assistance to Al Qaeda
UPDATE: On June 4, 2012, Hasanoff pleaded guilty to providing material support to Al Qaeda.
Posted: May 3, 2010
Two New Yorkers have been charged with providing computer systems expertise to Al Qaeda in an attempt to modernize the international terrorist network.
Wesam el-Hanafi, 33, and Sabirhan Hasanoff, 34, were arraigned in a Virginia federal court on April 30, 2010 on charges of conspiring to provide material support, including computer advice and assistance, to Al Qaeda. On September 14, 2010, the men were charged with violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act in connection with their alleged support of Al Qaeda. Each faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison if convicted.
"Wesam El-Hanafi and Sabirhan Hasanoff conspired to modernize al Qaeda by providing computer systems expertise and other goods and services" U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara stated. "These two New Yorkers, who allegedly pledged allegiance to al Qaeda, will now be held to account for their actions."
According to the Department of Justice, El-Hanafi, an American citizen from Brooklyn, traveled to Yemen in February 2008. While in Yemen, El-Hanafi allegedly met with two members of Al Qaeda and swore an oath of allegiance to the international terrorist network. Additionally, El-Hanafi, also known as Khaled, has been charged with receiving training from Al Qaeda on operational security measures.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Al Qaeda's affiliate that operates in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, has called for attacks against American interests "everywhere." The terrorist group has claimed responsibility for the attempted bombing of a transatlantic flight to Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, and, in September 2008, claimed responsibility for an attack against the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa, Yemen's capital city, killing 13 Yemeni police and civilians.
In the spring of 2008, El-Hanafi, who worked as a computer engineer for the former global financial services firm Lehman Brothers, returned to New York and allegedly purchased a subscription to an encryption software program that enabled him to "communicate securely with others over the Internet."
"The case's nexus to New York City serves as another reminder that we remain vigilant to the possibility of supporters of Al Qaeda returning to New York," New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly stated.
Court documents suggest that the men collected passports for Al Qaeda. In June 2008, Hasanoff, an American citizen born in Australia and raised in New York City, advised an unidentified co-conspirator, who had previously sworn allegiance to Al Qaeda, not to use his American passport when traveling because a U.S. passport is more valuable to Al Qaeda without immigration stamps. Later that summer, Hasanoff, also known as Tareq, "performed assignments" for Al Qaeda in New York City.
The following April, Hasanoff, an accountant, allegedly purchased seven Casio digital watches over the Internet on behalf of Al Qaeda and had them delivered to his residence in Brooklyn. Casio digital watches have previously been used in explosives by Ramzi Yousef, mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center attack, and by Ahmed Ressam, the so-called "Millennium Bomber" who plotted to blow up the Los Angeles International Airport on December 31, 1999.
El-Hanafi and Hasanoff, both graduates of Baruch College in New York, were arrested in Dubai and extradited to Virginia for arraignment. They will be transferred to Manhattan to face trial.