COLUMBUS, Ohio – When she found out her ex-husband met Usama bin Laden (search), admitted plots against trains and the Brooklyn Bridge (search) and pleaded guilty to felony terrorism charges, Geneva Bowling said she felt "physically ill."
"It just doesn't seem like the person I knew," said Bowling, the former wife of Iyman Faris (search), a 34-year-old Ohio truck driver who has acknowledged that he met bin Laden at a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan and worked with other top Al Qaeda officials, according to court documents.
"I don't feel well. ... I'm still in shock. I just need some time for it to sink in," Bowling said Thursday night by phone from her Columbus apartment.
Faris, of Columbus, is cooperating in the investigation of Al Qaeda, federal authorities said Thursday.
"This case highlights the very real threats that still exist here at home in the United States of America in the war against terrorism," Attorney General John Ashcroft said at a Justice Department news conference in Washington. "While we are disabling Al Qaeda, we don't believe it is disabled."
Faris has acknowledged that he met bin Laden in 2000 at an Al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan and provided operatives there with sleeping bags, cell phones and other assistance, court documents show.
Faris pleaded guilty May 1 to providing material support to terrorists and conspiracy to provide support, according to documents unsealed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va.
Authorities said Faris received attack instructions from top terror leader Khalid Shaikh Mohammed for what they suggested might have been a second wave planned for New York and Washington to follow the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Faris, who is represented by a lawyer and said in the documents he was not coerced to plead, could face 20 years in prison and up to $500,000 in fines. Sentencing was set for Aug. 1.
The Kashmir native arrived in the United States in May 1994 and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in December 1999.
In Columbus, former neighbors said Faris blared music when working on cars or warming up his commercial rig in his driveway. Some complained about the noise, but described the independent truck driver, who was often on the road, as unapproachable and aloof.
"That someone even associated with this craziness is right here in Columbus, it's sad," said 26-year-old Negla Ross, his former next-door neighbor.
Those who interacted with Faris, also known as Mohammed Rauf, recalled a man who sometimes lost his temper but also liked to laugh. He had been working in Columbus for several years.
Records show that under his alias, he was married to Bowling from 1995 to 2000 and lived with her in a small home in Columbus.
"I have felt physically ill since all this happened; I still do," said Bowling, 46.
Mike Bowling, 18, said he hadn't spoken to his former stepfather in two months.
"I remember the man had a very good sense of humor," he said.
This spring, Faris stayed a couple of weeks with a friend at a Columbus apartment complex. The rental office turned down his application to be put on the lease for the two-bedroom unit because of bad credit, resident manager Craig Cook said.
"He was very upset — but some people really are when you have to turn them down," Cook said. No one answered at the apartment Thursday.
Although the senior operative is referred to only as "C-2" in the documents, a U.S. law enforcement official speaking on condition of anonymity identified him as Mohammed. He was captured in Pakistan on March 1 and is said to be providing interrogators with a wealth of information about al-Qaida's global reach.
According to a government statement that Faris signed, an Al Qaeda leader instructed Faris to obtain "gas cutters," probably acetylene torches, that would enable him to sever the cables on "a bridge in New York City" that officials said was the Brooklyn Bridge.
To avoid government detection, Faris was told to refer to the cutters as "gas stations."
Mohammed also told Faris that he should obtain heavy torque tools — code-named "mechanics shops" — that could be used to derail trains in the United States, the affidavit says. The court papers refer to New York and Washington but provide no further detail about time or location of an attack.
The statement says that Faris researched the Brooklyn Bridge on the Internet and traveled to New York in late 2002 to examine it, finally concluding that "the plot to destroy the bridge by severing the cables was very unlikely to succeed."
None of the allegedly planned attacks was carried out.
Faris' meetings with Al Qaeda took place in 2000, 2001 and early 2002 in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the government statement says. Faris' original contact with Al Qaeda came through a second senior operative, named only as "C-1" or "bin Laden's right foot," whom the government says Faris had known since the Soviet-Afghanistan war in the 1980s.
Prosecutors also say Faris was asked by bin Laden associates in late 2000 to research ultralight aircraft that could be used as escape planes by Al Qaeda operatives.
Ashcroft and senior FBI officials wouldn't disclose details of Faris' arrest. They also would not say whether Faris was part of an active Al Qaeda cell in the United States, or whether any of his activities had previously been monitored.
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the Justice Department has obtained a number of guilty pleas from or won court convictions of members of alleged Al Qaeda cells, including six of seven members of an alleged cell in Lackawanna, N.Y. The Faris plea, however, is unusual in that it involves direct connections to Al Qaeda plots.
Two alleged members of a radical Islamic movement allied with Al Qaeda were convicted earlier this month in Detroit of providing material support and resources to the terrorist group by running an illegal document ring. One other man was acquitted in that case.