Raja Lahrasib Khan, a Chicago cab driver accused of trying to send money to an al-Qaeda ally, pleaded guilty to providing material support to a terrorist group.
Khan entered his plea today to one of two such counts in a 2010 indictment before U.S. District Judge James Zagel in Chicago.
“Mr. Khan, what do you plead?” Zagel asked in court after Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Veatch read a summary of facts the government would have presented at a trial.
“Guilty,” Khan replied.
A naturalized U.S. citizen, Khan, 58, was arrested in March 2010 after his son was apprehended at a London airport carrying $700 of $1,000 in marked $100 bills that a U.S. undercover agent had given the cab driver for delivery to Ilyas Kashmiri.
Kashmiri was allegedly an ally of the al-Qaeda terror network and a fighter in the movement to expel Indian forces from Kashmir, the disputed territory between Pakistan and India and where Khan was born. He was reportedly killed in a U.S. missile strike last year.
Khan today admitted meeting Kashmiri twice in Pakistan.
“Khan knew or had reason to believe that Kashmiri was working with al-Qaeda, in addition to leading attacks against the Indian government in the Kashmir region,” U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald of Chicago said in a statement today.
Khan faced as long as 30 years imprisonment if convicted at a trial of two material-support counts, defense lawyer Thomas Durkin told reporters after the hearing. That would have been tantamount to a life sentence for Khan, he said.
Khan’s plea agreement calls for a sentence of five to eight years, Zagel said in court.
“Any time you’re looking at 30 years to life and you walk away with just 5-8 years, you did pretty good,” Durkin said. “He will at least have a life.”
On a visit to Pakistan in the early to mid-2000s, Khan was solicited for cash donations to the movement to separate Kashmir from India, Veatch said in court. Khan was also introduced to Kashmiri, the prosecutor said.
In 2008, Khan again met with Kashmiri, who allegedly told him that al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden was alive and giving orders, Veatch said. Kahn gave the militant a sum equal to about $250, Veatch said. A year later, Khan wired an additional $950 to Pakistan with instructions that about $300 be given to Kashmiri, he said.
“Is what he said the truth?” Zagel asked Khan.
“Yes,” Khan said.
Durkin told reporters that his client supported Kashmir’s independence and that the money Khan sent was intended to support that movement, not al-Qaeda.
The case is U.S. v. Khan, 10-cr-00240, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).