KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A Kansas City man and two other aspiring holy war combatants in the U.S. thought their contributions to Al Qaeda would buy them front-row seats in global jihad, but instead the money was divvied up among leaders in Yemen for their personal gain, according to court records.
Hundreds of pages of court documents in Kansas City and New York illustrate how Khalid Ouazzani -- a Kansas City used auto parts salesman and failed real estate investor -- and two other naturalized American citizens were fleeced out of tens of thousands of dollars by Al Qaeda leaders who exploited their zeal to wage holy war, The Kansas City Star reported.
In a recent letter to a New York federal judge, a lawyer representing cell member Sabirhan Hasanoff -- a Brooklyn accountant at PricewaterhouseCoopers who moved to Dubai in 2007 -- acknowledged that Hasanoff once dreamed about jihad glory but instead got taken by a Yemeni con man.
"The defendants never had any authentic access to terrorism networks or Islamic extremists, and were victims of a rudimentary fraud," the lawyer wrote.
Federal prosecutors responded that while Hasanoff couldn't control how his contributions would be used, he intended them to support Al Qaeda's terrorist goals.
Ouazzani, Hanoff and Wesam El-Hanafi, who was an information security specialist in Brooklyn with Lehman Brothers before moving to Dubai around 2005, all aspired to "support violent extremist Islamic causes," prosecutors have said. They are awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty in Kansas City and New York to various federal crimes.
All three also are married, have children and didn't care much for the idea of blowing themselves up for the cause.
Court records show that El-Hanafi connected with two experienced terrorists in Yemen in mid-2007. One of the men, referred to in court records as "Suffian," had recently left prison and was eager to resume his work for Al Qaeda.
The other man, referred to as "The Doctor," was an experienced jihadi who claimed to have fought the Soviets in Afghanistan and pledged his support in the 1990s to an organization that later merged with Al Qaeda. He also ran an automobile business in Yemen.
The three Americans began sending $300 a month to their new friends in Yemen to prove they were serious. Ouazzani also offered a $6,500 commitment to the cause, which he couldn't afford most likely because of real estate losses in Kansas City. Hasanoff covered Ouazzani's contribution and later badgered him with emails demanding repayment.
The three also sent watches, cold-weather gear, Garmin GPS units and a remote-control car to the terrorist leaders.
After being arrested by Yemeni authorities, Suffian and The Doctor told FBI agents the Americans believed the money and equipment were being set aside for their military training that eventually would land them in Somalia, Iraq or Afghanistan.
Instead, The Doctor admitted he and Suffian divided the material loot between themselves, gave some of the money to the families of Islamic martyrs and bought a couple of automobiles.
The three Americans also had planned to send a $45,000 contribution in late 2008, which The Doctor had earmarked for a personal investment.
"(The Doctor's) plan was to take the Americans' money," Suffian is quoted as saying in one FBI interview. "For example, (The Doctor) was planning on using the $45,000 to open an appliance store."
Eventually the Americans became impatient and pressed The Doctor and Suffian for word about when they would travel for jihad. The Yemenis urged patience, saying the three were better suited for an operation in the U.S. than fighting in foreign countries.
The process would be sped up dramatically, though, if they consented to a "martyrdom" operation, one of Suffian's terror contacts told him.
"The Americans . advised (Suffian) that they did not want to do a martyrdom operation, but still wanted to travel for jihad," the FBI reported.