Sept. 16 (Bloomberg) -- The confidential informant at the center of the case against four men accused of plotting to bomb New York City synagogues testified that the Federal Bureau of Investigation sent him to Pakistan in 2008 to attend a terrorist training camp.
The informant, Shahed Hussain, told a jury in New York today he went to his native country in December of that year to meet someone at the camp. He didn’t identify the organization running the camp or discuss the result of the investigation.
“Are you a terrorist?” defense lawyer Susanne Brody asked Hussain in cross-examination.
“No ma’am,” he responded.
Hussain was testifying during the second day of cross-examination by Brody, a lawyer with the federal public defender’s office who is representing defendant Onta Williams.
Defense attorneys have argued that their clients are the victims of entrapment, poor men enticed into the plot with the promise of cars, cash and food by Hussain.
The lawyers for the men have tried to portray Hussain as a habitual liar who misled officials on applications for political asylum, documents relating to his fraud case and statements to parole officers.
Hussain said he comes from a family that owned businesses in Pakistan including restaurant chains and a construction-supply company. One of his cars was a gift from former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in the early 2000s, while she was in exile in the U.S. and staying in Manhattan, he testified.
Gift From Bhutto
Bhutto, a family friend and neighbor in Karachi, invited him to the hotel to meet him and gave him $40,000 cash to buy the car for his son.
The political leader was killed in a suicide bombing at a rally of her Pakistan People’s Party in Rawalpindi on Dec. 27, 2007.
Hussain said he was a member of the MQM party that represents people who emigrated from India at the time of Pakistan’s independence in 1947. He left his native country under the threat of death after being arrested three times, twice for a murder he didn’t commit, he said. He was released when his father bribed a police official, he testified.
The trial of Williams, 34, James Cromitie, 44, David Williams, 29, and Laguerre Payen, 28, all of Newburgh, New York, began Aug. 23 before Judge Colleen McMahon in federal court in Lower Manhattan.
The men are accused of plotting to bomb a synagogue and Jewish community center in the Bronx section of New York City and fire heat-seeking missiles at military planes at Stewart International Airport in Newburgh.
The charges include conspiracy and attempted use of weapons of mass destruction in the U.S. They face as long as life in prison if convicted of the most serious charges.
Hussain testified that he left Pakistan with his wife and children with less than $2,000, using fake British passports to go to Moscow and Mexico before entering the U.S. in 1994 through El Paso, Texas.
He made his way to Albany, New York, where he began working at a service station while applying for political asylum, he said. He later bought a station next to a state Department of Motor Vehicles office. He went to work for the department as a translator.
In January 2003 he was arrested in an FBI sting after a friend offered him $1,000 to help obtain an illegal driver’s license.
Hussain pleaded guilty to one count of attempted unlawful transfer of an identification document in April 2003 and was sentenced to five years’ probation, he testified. He agreed to work as an informant with federal prosecutors in Albany, helping on about 21 cases including money laundering and credit card fraud, and his probation was later ended, he said.
Hussain said he posed as a member of the Pakistan-based terrorist group Jaishe-e-Mohammad who needed to launder money from weapons sales. The FBI sting in 2004 led to prison sentences for a pizzeria owner and the imam of a mosque in Albany, he testified.
In 2007, he began working with the FBI in White Plains, New York. He said. It sent him to mosques to pose as a wealthy businessman, he said.
At a mosque in Newburgh, he met one of the defendants, Cromitie, in June 2008, he testified. Three months later, the FBI sent him to the training camp in Pakistan, he said. Next he went to mosques in England seeking “people who were expressing radical ideas,” he said.
Back to U.S.
He returned to the U.S. in February 2009 and resumed working on the Cromitie case, which culminated in the arrest of the four men in a coordinated FBI sting outside the Bronx synagogue on May 20, 2009.
Hussain’s father died in 2003 and his mother in 1998, he testified. He said he has received about $500,000 from a family trust fund since 1996, including more than $200,000 in 2003 to pay debts relating to a bankruptcy that year.
The case is U.S. v. Cromitie, 09-cr-00558, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
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