SANTA ANA, Calif. – The brother-in-law of Usama bin Laden's former bodyguard was arrested Friday on charges that he lied about ties to terrorist groups on citizenship and passport papers, authorities said.
An anti-terrorism task force comprised of federal and local law enforcement agents arrested Ahmadullah Sais Niazi, 34, at his home in Tustin early Friday, according to the U.S. attorney's office.
Niazi has lived in the U.S. since 1998 and became a citizen in 2004.
A grand jury indictment unsealed Friday charged Niazi with perjury, procurement of naturalization unlawfully, passport fraud and making a false statement. He could face up to 35 years in prison if convicted of all charges.
According to search warrant affidavits, Niazi's sister, Hafiza, is married to Amin al-Haq, who prosecutors say is a high-ranking Al Qaeda member. Al-Haq was named a "specially designated global terrorist" by the United Nations Security Council and U.S. officials in 2001, according to the indictment.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Deirdre Eliot said al-Haq was believed to have been bin-Laden's bodyguard around and after Sept. 11, 2001, prompting the terrorist designations.
"Niazi and his family were upset when Hafiza married Amin al-Haq because of Amin al-Haq's past activities," an FBI agent stated in a search warrant. Niazi did not elaborate on what those activities might have been.
Niazi is also accused of associating with the Taliban and a terrorist organization called Hezb-e-Islami that fights international and U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Niazi appeared in handcuffs in federal court hours after his arrest, dressed in a brown and white sweater and black running pants.
He became agitated when he learned that his private attorney had declared a conflict of interest and would not be present. He initially refused to be represented by a public defender, leading U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Nakazato to order a brief recess.
Before the hearing, Niazi spoke loudly and appeared to be addressing his wife and a group of reporters sitting on the opposite side of the courtroom.
"I need to reveal something to the court, just what exactly is really happening," he said. "These are not my charges, these are all conspiracy."
Nakazato eventually appointed a public defender and postponed the hearing until Tuesday so the attorney could familiarize himself with the case. Niazi will remain in custody until then.
"We'll absolutely move for bail at that point," public defender Chase Scolnick said. "I really don't know much about the case at this point."
According to the indictment, Niazi lied when he wrote on his naturalization papers that he had never been a member of or associated with a terrorist organization.
He allegedly traveled to Pakistan in 2005, where he met with al-Haq. Upon his return from the trip he allegedly told authorities he had been visiting family in Qatar.
The indictment also said Niazi had written on his applications that he had never gone by any other name, but prosecutors contend he used several aliases.
Shakeel Syed, executive director of Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, said he gave a workshop last year at a mosque in Orange County to teach people about their civil rights.
Syed said Niazi approached him afterward and said federal agents had asked him to become an informant at mosques in Orange County.
"He said, `I have been living here as a straightforward guy. ... My only crime is I was born and brought up in Afghanistan and the feds are coming after me,"' Syed recalled.
U.S. attorney's office spokesman Thom Mrozek would not comment on whether Niazi was asked to be an informant.
Niazi originally came to the U.S. on a tourist visa but became a permanent resident after marrying his wife, Jamilah Amin. She was born in Cambodia and became a U.S. citizen in 1992.
Neighbors on Niazi's quiet suburban street in Tustin said it was the second time in about a year that FBI agents had raided the house.
Julie Galvan, 50, described her neighbors as quiet.
"It's very scary learning about all the things this gentleman is (allegedly) involved in." Galvan said. "How did it get to our neighborhood?"
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Virginia Kice said prosecutors will seek to have Niazi's citizenship revoked, something that can be done if it was obtained fraudulently. If that happens, he would be subject to deportation.
Sharon Rummery, a spokeswoman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said she could not comment on Niazi's citizenship application because it would violate the federal Privacy Act.