NEW YORK – An Arabic translator for the Army may have secretly helped Iraqi insurgents by taking classified documents home from Iraq to Brooklyn, where he made a series of calls to numbers linked to the insurgency, a federal prosecutor said Monday.
The man was charged last month with falsifying his identity over many years, beginning when he entered the United States seeking political asylum sometime between 1978 and 1989. His alleged ties to the insurgency were revealed for the first time at a bail hearing Monday in federal court in Brooklyn.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Buretta said authorities had yet to determine the true identity of the defendant, who was ordered held without bail on three counts of making false statements to federal authorities. Buretta said the defendant posed a threat to American forces and prosecutors would likely seek the maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
"His release likely would directly endanger U.S. soldiers in Iraq," Buretta said.
The man's lawyer said he simply had been maintaining innocent relationships with Iraqi contacts approved by the Army officials overseeing his translation work. Defense attorney Mildred Whalen said her client may have lied to became a U.S. citizen but was a patriot who went to Iraq only to help his adopted country.
Using the name Almaliki Nour, the man became a U.S. citizen in 2000 and three years later went to work for a defense contractor as a translator and interpreter for an intelligence unit of the 82nd Airborne Division, according to lawyers in the case and an FBI complaint.
As the man known as Nour worked in Iraq, the FBI and Department of Defense discovered that he had fabricated his name, birth date, native country, Lebanon, and family background as the persecuted son of a Muslim father and Catholic mother, the complaint said.
Investigators probing the fabrications discovered that Nour had extensive ties to people linked to the Iraqi insurgency, according to the complaint and law enforcement officials. His cell phone address book contained two coded entries with the numbers of known insurgents, Buretta said.
When the man known as Nour returned to the U.S. this year, he had more than 100 conversations with people directly involved with the insurgency, Buretta said, including some whose numbers were found at suspected safehouses for Jordanian extremist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq.
Investigators also discovered that Nour had improperly taken to his Brooklyn apartment classified documents about combating the insurgency, including one, Buretta said, that contained the heading "current threat."
Nour has since told the FBI he is a Moroccan named Noureddine Malki, according to the complaint, but his identity remains unclear.
"We don't know who the defendant is," Buretta said.
Buretta said the man had received money from Sunni sheiks in Iraq, whose tribes supported the insurgency, to pay for trips to Jordan and Egypt. He did not offer further details.
Whalen said in court Monday that many of her client's alleged insurgent contacts were Sunni sheiks whom the Army told him to cultivate. Those tribal leaders may have known insurgents, but that does not mean he did anything wrong, she said.
"He was speaking to these sheiks as part of their negotiations to get contracts with the United States military," she said. "They developed into social relationships."
In an interview after the hearing, Whalen said any contacts her client may have had with insurgents would have been unintentional.
"He has not knowingly assisted anyone who would intend to harm the United States," she said.
Malki was employed by the Titan Corp., a defense contractor that has since been acquired by New York-based contractor L-3. An L-3 spokesman said Malki was no longer an employee and declined to comment further.
A Department of Defense spokesman did not return a phone call seeking comment.