NEW YORK – A Pakistani man who claimed he was pressured into a false confession was convicted Wednesday of trying to help an Al Qaeda operative slip past U.S. immigration officials to carry out a chemical attack.
A federal jury deliberated for about five hours before finding Uzair Paracha, 25, guilty of providing material support to terrorists and of other related charges. He could face up to 75 years in prison.
The government accused Paracha of trying to help Majid Khan, an alleged Al Qaeda member, sneak into the country using fake travel documents.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Karl Metzner told the jury Paracha wanted to help Khan and "did so knowing that a terrorist was coming here for one purpose: to kill Americans." The government also alleged he knew Khan was planning a chemical attack against the United States.
Paracha had no visible reaction to the verdict, but lawyer Anthony Ricco said his client "was hurt and disappointed."
He said Paracha had turned down a plea deal because "he believed he was innocent."
Paracha testified that he was pressured into confession and only told investigators "what I thought they wanted to hear." Defense attorney Edward Wilford said the FBI denied his client food and sleep during hours of questioning — "the ideal conditions to create a false confession."
Paracha's father, Saifullah Paracha, is being held as an enemy combatant at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He has not been charged with a crime, but documents indicate he is suspected of laundering money for terrorists and associating with al-Qaida figures. He has repeatedly denied involvement in terrorism.
Khan is presumed to be in an overseas jail.
Uzair Paracha grew up in Pakistan, but has lived off and on for many years in New York, where his family has several business ventures.
After his detention in 2003, he told agents that Khan had tried to recruit him to Al Qaeda and made clear that he wanted to come to the United States as part of a plot to attack Americans.
Paracha told the agents he had no personal interest in Al Qaeda but cooperated because Khan and others related to the terrorist network had promised to invest $200,000 in one of the family's businesses.
Just before the trial began two weeks ago, the judge denied Paracha's request to call as witnesses Khan, Ammar Al-Baluchi and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Al Qaeda's No. 3 leader, who was in U.S. custody. The judge did allow jurors to see summaries of Khan's and Al-Baluchi's statements to investigators. Both men said Paracha did not know they were Al Qaeda.
Paracha's sentencing is set for March 4. He was convicted of conspiring to support Al Qaeda, conspiring to violate laws barring economic support for Al Qaeda and committing identification document fraud in aid of terrorism.