NEW HAVEN, Conn. – A British computer specialist used U.S.-based Web sites to recruit and raise money for Taliban fighters and obtained classified documents detailing a Navy fleet's weaknesses to terrorist attacks, federal prosecutors said Friday.
Authorities said Pakistani-born Babar Ahmad (search), 30, also had links to the e-mail account of a Chechen rebel leader behind the October 2002 Moscow theater siege, and was exchanging e-mails with a Navy sailor who expressed sympathy for terrorists.
Ahmad was arrested Wednesday in London on a U.S. extradition warrant accusing accused him of trying to raise funds for "acts of terrorism in Chechnya and Afghanistan" from 1998 through 2003.
At a court appearance in London on Friday, Ahmad was asked if he understood the charges, and replied: "Not really. It's all a bit confusing to me."
According to an arrest warrant affidavit unsealed Friday in Connecticut — where one of his Web sites was hosted — the Navy document was discovered at his parents' London home. Authorities also said they found a compact disc with audio tracks praising Usama bin Laden (search).
The document detailed planned movements of a battle group that included the San Diego-based USS Benfold, and a drawing of the group's formation when it was to pass through the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, the affidavit said.
It also showed the ships' vulnerabilities to attacks by small boats, the affidavit said.
The intelligence documents are dated months after the Oct. 12, 2000, terrorist attack on the USS Cole (search), which killed 17 sailors. The Benfold's battle group was never attacked.
As the naval intelligence was being gathered, Ahmad was allegedly exchanging e-mails with a Benfold sailor.
In one exchange, the sailor praised those who attacked the Cole, according to the affidavit. The sailor was not named, nor was he accused of providing the document to Ahmad.
Lt. Ohene Gyapong, a U.S. Navy spokesman, said the sailor was no longer in the Navy and was not in custody, though U.S. Attorney Kevin O'Connor said in Connecticut that the Navy has identified him "and is taking appropriate precautions."
A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the sailor left the Navy about two years ago when his enlistment expired.
Lawyers representing the United States in the London court gave no further details about Ahmad's alleged connection to Chechen separatists, and did not identify the owner of the e-mail account.
The affidavit said Ahmad ran two Web sites and coordinated content on a third, all using aliases in London. One was run out of a Trumbull, Conn.-based Internet provider, OLM LLC, from 1999 until 2001. From 1997 to 1998, the document says, it was run through a Las Vegas-based Internet provider, Internet Quality Services.
The third was a so-called mirror site set up following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The affidavit quoted the site saying: "Azzam Publications has been set up to propagate the call for jihad ... to incite the believers and also, secondly, to raise some money for the brothers."
O'Connor said the Internet companies were cooperating with authorities.
Babar's detention was not believed to be linked to the arrest in London of men suspected of authoring surveillance documents that sparked terror alerts in the United States.
According to U.S. lawyers at his London hearing, Ahmad is a cousin of Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan, a computer expert arrested in Pakistan last month on suspicion of sending coded messages to a vast network of al-Qaida operatives.
Ahmad faces charges of conspiracy to provide support to terrorists, conspiracy to launder money to support terrorism, conspiracy to support the Taliban and solicitation to commit a crime of physical violence.
He could face life in prison if convicted of the first charge, and a combined 50-year prison sentence if convicted on the three other charges.
Ahmad's lawyer in London, Carolina Guiloff, said he was abused by police when he was arrested last December as a suspected terrorist, and fears he might be abused again.