NEW YORK – An Al Qaeda operative pleaded guilty to conspiring to destroy national defense materials, a crime that carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in jail.
Speaking before Judge Kevin Thomas Duffy in Federal District Court on Friday, the defendant, Mohamed Suleiman al Nalfi, said he worked for Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network in his native Sudan in the early 1990's.
He also said that he created a jihad (holy war) group in Sudan in 1989 and helped to build businesses in Sudan that backed Al Qaeda. The government has said that Al Qaeda used these businesses as a front to procure explosives, chemicals and weapons.
In 1990, al Nalfi and others traveled from Sudan to Egypt in a caravan of camels to "establish a route to be used by Al Qaeda ... to move weapons without detection," he said.
In addition, al Nalfi told the judge that he had attended a meeting in 1992 where Al Qaeda officials spoke about ways of forcibly removing American and United Nations forces from Somalia and Saudi Arabia.
One of the last remaining Al Qaeda operatives being held in Manhattan on criminal charges, al Nalfi, 40, was originally arrested in 2000 in a broad terrorism conspiracy case that included the 1998 bombings of two American embassies in East Africa.
If he had been convicted of charges related to that case, he could have faced a life sentence.
There was no indication as to why the government agreed to the lesser charge. Prosecutors said they had no comment.
Al Nalfi's lawyer, Marion Seltzer, said after the hearing that her client was not cooperating with authorities.
Seltzer said his admissions in court Friday did not correspond directly to the charge of conspiring to destroy national defense materials, which al Nalfi pleaded guilty to. Instead "it fits into the overall conspiracy," she said.
"He never participated in anything involving violence," she said. "But to be guilty of conspiracy, all that's necessary is there to be an agreement and you have knowledge of the agreement and somebody creates an act out of the agreement."