US defends NY charges in 'mini' al-Qaida cell case

A native New Yorker accused of conspiring to join al-Qaida and start a "mini" al-Qaida cell eagerly spoke to the FBI and shouldn't have his statements suppressed, prosecutors said in papers submitted Friday to a judge who has been asked to toss out the charges.

A native New Yorker accused of conspiring to join al-Qaida and start a "mini" al-Qaida cell eagerly spoke to the FBI and shouldn't have his statements suppressed, prosecutors said in papers submitted Friday to a judge who has been asked to toss out the charges.

Prosecutors in Manhattan defended conspiracy charges they brought last year against Wesam El-Hanafi. An indictment accuses the Brooklyn-born El-Hanafi of pledging loyalty to al-Qaida and helping teach the terror group how to evade detection on the Internet after he went to Yemen in February 2008. The defense has argued statements were coerced and search warrants were overbroad.

El-Hanafi was arrested in Virginia on April 30, 2010, after he was brought to the United States from Dubai, where he was being paid $170,000 annually to work in a government job safeguarding computer systems. He had moved to Dubai in 2006 with his wife and three children.

Prosecutors said he willingly spoke to investigators twice after he realized he had been placed on a no-fly list.

"Far from having his will overborne, El-Hanafi, an educated and sophisticated young man, initiated contact with the United States government to obtain his removal from the 'no-fly' list; voluntarily met with law enforcement agents on both occasions at agreed upon times and locations; emphasized his willingness to cooperate with the government; and was never physically restrained or otherwise even remotely in custody," prosecutors wrote.

They said the interviews took place in sedate settings — a cafeteria and a hotel room — and El-Hanafi left the interviews when he chose to.

An FBI synopsis of the interviews with El-Hanafi that was included in the government submission said that he told an agent and a police detective that he traveled to Yemen in February 2008 for two job interviews.

Defense lawyers for El-Hanafi submitted written arguments in June seeking to have charges tossed out and statements he made to the FBI suppressed on the grounds that investigators forced El-Hanafi to make statements "under threat of continued exile from his place of birth."

They said charges should be dismissed as well because search warrants obtained by investigators were "overbroad and lacking in particularity." The defense said the warrants "authorized whole-sale rummaging through Mr. El-Hanafi's personal communications and affairs, unlimited by scope, time or number of searches." A defense lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John Cronan, who signed the government submission, has said in court that El-Hanafi "basically formed his own mini al-Qaida cell" and supplied cash to al-Qaida, including one payment of $35,000.

Cronan said El-Hanafi reached out to others he thought were sympathetic to the aspirations of the group and tried to help the group by buying seven Casio wristwatches that could be used to trigger a detonation device on an explosive.

The government submission said the search warrants used to build the case against El-Hanafi were well supported by probable cause, were sufficiently particular, and were not overbroad.

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