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Ex-Islamic Charity Leader Pleads Guilty

The former head of an Islamic charity accused of having ties to terrorism has pleaded guilty to bank and visa fraud.

Bassem Khafagi (search), who is Egyptian, was ordered deported earlier this year. He pleaded guilty Tuesday.

The FBI said Khafagi is a founding member of the Islamic Assembly of North America (search), a charity that purports to promote Islam.

Federal investigators contend the charity, and another man — Sami Omar Al-Hussayen — provided Web sites for two radical Saudi sheiks, Salman Al-Awdah and Safar al-Hawali. Both have direct contact with Usama bin Laden (search), authorities said.

Al-Hussayen, a University of Idaho student who was working toward his doctorate in computer science, was arrested Feb. 26 in Idaho on charges of visa fraud and lying to federal officials. Al-Hussayen, who is Saudi, remains in custody and is awaiting a January trial for immigration violations.

The Islamic Assembly is affiliated with Help the Needy, a nonprofit organization based in Syracuse, N.Y., that also is under investigation by the FBI.

Federal investigators said Islamic Assembly has funneled money to activities supporting terrorism and has published material advocating suicide attacks on the United States.

Khafagi was one of four men arrested during an investigation of a group of people in the Moscow, Idaho, and Pullman, Wash., area that federal investigators say is linked to the two Islamic charities. The men were either current or former students at the University of Idaho and Washington State University.

U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Collins said in a statement that Khafagi admitted during a plea hearing that he passed bad checks for thousands of dollars at two banks. The incidents took place during February and June 2001.

He said Khafagi also "confessed ... he made false material statements" on his nonimmigrant visa application on Nov. 8, 2000, in Kuwait City, Kuwait.

Khafagi, who graduated from the University of Idaho in 1988, was arrested in New York in January. He had been in custody in Detroit because the charity was based in Ypsilanti, Mich., about 36 miles west of Detroit.

Khafagi faces up to 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine for each of the two counts of bank fraud, and 10 years and a $250,000 fine on the visa fraud conviction.

Sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 4.