HONG KONG – Two Pakistanis and an Indian-born U.S. citizen told a court Monday that they would agree to be extradited to the United States on charges they plotted to swap drugs for anti-aircraft missiles to sell to the Al Qaeda network.
As the Hong Kong court convened after a delay of several hours, an interpreter spoke with the men in their native Urdu language and then informed the court of their intention to accept extradition.
They were due to return to court later Monday to formally sign documents to that effect. The extradition must still be approved by Hong Kong's leader, Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, a process that is likely to take several weeks.
Defense lawyer Jonathan Acton-Bond declined comment on why his clients had decided not to fight extradition. He said he only discovered their intentions on Monday morning.
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft has called the case a reminder "of the toxic combination of drugs and terrorism and the threats they can pose to our national security."
The men were caught in an FBI sting operation by undercover agents who said the three offered to provide hashish and heroin in exchange for four shoulder-fired Stinger missiles, which experts say would be capable of shooting down civilian jetliners flying at low altitudes.
Little is known about the defendants: The indictment originally identified one as Syed Mustajab Shah, 54, of Peshawar, Pakistan. Through the interpreter, he said that was the name of his father, and that his real name is Syed Saadat Ali Faraz. The others are Muhammed Abid Afridi, 29, also of Peshawar, and naturalized U.S. citizen Ilyas Ali, 55, of Minneapolis, Minn. They have been jailed here since Hong Kong police arrested them on Sept. 20.
The men are said to have met in September with undercover FBI agents in a Hong Kong hotel, where they allegedly agreed to sell 5 tons of hashish and 1,300 pounds of heroin, according to an indictment in the U.S. District Court in Southern California.
Before the Hong Kong meeting, Ali allegedly met in April with undercover FBI agents in San Diego, Calif., to discuss drug deals, the indictment says.
In Hong Kong, the defendants allegedly agreed to take Stinger missiles as payment for the drugs. They also allegedly told the FBI agents they would sell the missiles to Al Qaeda.
The men are charged with conspiracy to import heroin and hashish, conspiracy to distribute heroin and hashish and providing material support to a terrorist organization.
The drug charges each carry up to life in prison and fines of $4 million, while supporting terrorists carries up to 15 years and a fine of $250,000.
Hong Kong has no death penalty and its extradition treaty with the United States does not allow for the transfer of defendants who could face execution.