Washington: A 31-year-old Indian-American, caught in a FBI sting operation, faces up to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to providing thousands of dollars in material support to three terror groups operating under Al-Qaeda in war-torn Syria and Somalia.
Gufran Ahmed Kauser Mohammed was arrested last year in a Miami-based terrorism investigation led by an FBI employee, who engaged him and a Kenyan national, Mohamed Hussein Said, 26, in an online, undercover financial scheme.
Mohammed had pleaded not guilty in August when he was indicted, but changed his plea when he made an appearance before US District Judge Ursula Ungaro in Miami yesterday.
Mohammed and Said were charged with conspiring to provide a combined total of about USD 25,000 to the al-Qaida splinter groups. Both defendants were ordered held without bond. Said, who pleaded not guilty, is still set for trial next year, Miami Herald reported.
The Miami FBI employee posed as a brother and a sister who supported Al-Qaeda as a way to communicate in an Internet chat room with the two men overseas. The men were accused of plotting to finance the terrorist group's battles in Syria and Somalia, according to an indictment.
The 'online covert employee' assumed the role of the brother, saying he was an Al-Qaeda fighter. Then he switched to playing the sister, saying she could help collect money for the terrorist group.
In 2012, the FBI employee first engaged Mohammed in Saudi Arabia and later Said in Kenya. Mohammed, who once had lived in California, and Said, who had resided in Mombasa, were arrested in Saudi Arabia and brought to Miami by FBI agents.
The indictment said Mohammed and Said met in Saudi Arabia in May 2011 and agreed to provide financial and other help to an Al-Qaeda affiliate, al-Shabaab, which was seeking to overthrow the US-backed transitional government in Somalia. Through September of that year, Mohammed allegedly wired Said over USD 11,000 to back al-Shabaab, the indictment said.
In April 2012, the FBI undercover employee established online contact with Mohammed, who arranged to send a series of wire transfers totaling more than USD 9,000 to the FBI agent. The funds were intended for another Al-Qaeda affiliate, the Nusra Front, which is fighting the government of President Bashar Assad in Syria.
If convicted, both Mohammed and Said faces a possible statutory maximum sentence of up to 15 years in prison for each count of the indictment, the FBI had said. Mohammed will be sentenced in a Miami federal court in October.