The three Pakistani men accused of trying to smuggle someone they thought was part of the Pakistani Taliban into the United States pleaded guilty to charges filed against them in a U.S. District Court Monday.
Irfran Ul Haq, 37, Qasim Ali, 32, and Zahid Yousaf, 43, pleaded guilty to one count each of conspiracy to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, Taherik-e Taliban Pakistan, at a hearing before U.S. District Judge John Bates in the District of Columbia, according to a statement released by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. They each face up to 15 years in prison at a sentencing Dec. 9, and a fine up to $250,000.
Prosecutors say law enforcement agents worked with confidential sources to ask the three to help get someone they were told was a member of the terrorist group into the U.S. early this year. The men were living in Ecuador and are accused of getting the fictitious person a false Pakistani passport.
"ICE Homeland Security Investigation agents will continue to use every available resource to protect the American public from terrorist organizations and individuals who support them," ICE Director John Morton said in a statement.
The investigation was conducted by ICE's Homeland Security Investigations attaché office in Quito, Ecuador, with the HSI office in Atlanta, the Miami Division of the FBI and the Ecuadorian National Police.
"Today's case underscores the threat posed by human smuggling networks that facilitate terrorist travel," said Assistant Attorney General Lisa Monaco.
"These defendants sought to smuggle someone they believed to be a member of a terrorist organization from halfway around the world into the United States," said Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer. "For financial profit, they were willing to jeopardize the safety and security of the American people. Human smuggling operations pose a serious risk to our national security, and we will continue to work closely with our law enforcement partners at home and abroad to combat this dangerous threat."
Ul Haq, Ali and Yousaf were arrested in Miami on March 13, 2011, on an indictment filed in the District of Columbia charging them with one count of conspiracy to commit alien smuggling. As part of their plea agreements, the defendant's have agreed to be deported to Pakistan upon release.
"These criminals were willing to use their human smuggling network to help a terrorist slip across our border without any regard for the consequences," said U.S Attorney Ronald Machen. "Ten years after 9/11, this case reminds us that we must remain aggressive to stop terrorists from infiltrating our homeland and harming our nation."
According to the ICE statement, each defendant admitted that between Jan. 3, 2011, and March 10, 2011, they conspired to provide material support to the TTP in the form of false documentation and identification, knowing that the TTP engages in terrorist activity and terrorism. The TTP was designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department on Sept. 1, 2010.
Court documents indicate that law enforcement agents directed confidential sources to ask the defendants, who were residing in Ecuador at the time, for their assistance in smuggling a fictitious person from Pakistan to the United States. Over the course of the ensuing negotiations, the defendants were made aware that the person to be smuggled was a member of the TTP who was blacklisted in Pakistan.
According to the court documents, the defendants agreed to move this person from Pakistan into the United States, despite his purported affiliation with the TTP. Ul Haq told the confidential sources that it was "not their concern" what the men "want to do in the United States - hard labor, sweep floor, wash dishes in a hotel, or blow up. That will be up to them," the documents say. The defendants accepted payment from the confidential sources for the smuggling operation and procured a false Pakistani passport for the purported TTP member.
"These criminals said they didn't care if the men they smuggled 'swept floors or blow up' something," said FBI Special Agent in Charge Gillies. "As long as they got paid, they did not care if innocent people would be killed in a potential terrorist attack. The FBI's number one priority is counterterrorism and we will continue to work with our partners to protect the U.S. and its people from harm."
The investigation was conducted under the Extraterritorial Criminal Travel Strike Force (ECT) program, a joint partnership between the Justice Department's Criminal Division and HSI. The ECT program focuses on human smuggling networks that may present particular national security or public safety risks, or present grave humanitarian concerns. ECT has dedicated investigative, intelligence and prosecutorial resources. ECT coordinates and receives assistance from other U.S. government agencies and foreign law enforcement authorities.
The case was prosecuted jointly by prosecutors from the Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section of the Criminal Division, the Counterterrorism Section of the National Security Division and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.