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FBI agent testifies he posed as al-Qaida recruiter in terror case

AP | May 04, 2007
LARRY NEUMEISTER

An FBI agent who posed as an al-Qaida recruiter in a terrorism investigation testified Thursday at a doctor's trial, recalling that a key conspirator in the case showed him how he could strangle somebody with his prayer beads.

The agent, Ali Soufan, is a key witness in the terrorism trail against the doctor, Rafiq Abdus Sabir, 52, who was charged two years ago with pledging to provide material support to al-Qaida by offering to treat the group's injured fighters.

Most of Soufan's testimony in nearly a day on the witness stand revolved around conversations he had with Tarik Shah, a martial arts expert and jazz musician who said he wanted to introduce him to Sabir. Several taped conversations from a meeting between the agent and Shah in Plattsburgh, N.Y. were played for the jury.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Karl Metzner often paused the tapes to ask Soufan to explain portions of the conversations.

During one talk, Soufan said Shah showed him long prayer beads of the type worn by martial arts masters, and said Shah demonstrated that he could strangle someone with the prayer beads _ "that he could kill with these beads."

Soufan testified the demonstration came after an earlier conversation in which he told Shah that members of al-Qaida had already used martial arts effectively in attacks "and were very successful."

Soufan said he was referring to the hijackers involved in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Shah pleaded guilty several weeks ago to providing material support to a terrorist organization. He faces 15 years in prison. Two other defendants, a former Washington D.C. cab driver and a Brooklyn bookstore owner, have pleaded guilty to similar charges and face between 13 and 15 years in prison.

The pleas left Sabir as the lone defendant in the case that relied on tape recordings by a government informant that began weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Sabir's lawyer, Ed Wilford, said there was very little evidence, if any, related to his client.

"It's clear you're dealing with two different people," he said of the distinction between his client and Shah. "Dr. Sabir is a medical doctor," he said. "This guy, Shah, is a nut."

Wilford said the government was trying to make up for the lack of evidence against Sabir by showing the jury heavy evidence against someone he knew, Shah, and by linking al-Qaida to multiple terrorist attacks.

"What the government is trying to do is lump everybody into one pot," he said.

If convicted, Sabir could face up to 30 years in prison.

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