NEW YORK – A Nigerian man pleaded not guilty Friday to charges alleging he was directed by the Yemen-based al-Qaida branch to recruit English speakers to help spread extremist propaganda intended to inspire terror attacks like the Boston Marathon bombings.
Lawal Olaniyi Babafemi is charged with providing material support to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and with receiving firearms training from the group. He entered the not guilty plea at his first appearance in federal court in Brooklyn following his extradition from Nigeria.
Court papers describe Babafemi as an operative assigned to the al-Qaida group's "English-language media operations," which publishes the online magazine Inspire. The publication seeks to groom potential "lone wolf" jihadists, providing instructions on homemade bombs and suggesting targets in the United States and elsewhere.
Authorities have said that Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the now-dead Boston bombings suspect, frequently looked at Inspire. His younger brother is charged with joining with his sibling in setting off two shrapnel-packed pressure-cooker bombs near the marathon's finish line, killing three people and injuring more than 260.
The 33-year-old Babafemi "threw his efforts behind al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's media, recruitment and weapons training campaigns in an effort to strengthen the terrorist group's grip on the region and extend its reach throughout the world," U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said in a statement.
Babafemi, also known as Abdullah Ayatollah Mustapha, had been in the custody of Nigerian authorities on separate charges since 2011, U.S. prosecutors said. A court there granted a U.S. request for extradition in August and he arrived in New York early Friday.
The U.S. extradition request alleged Babafemi was under the command of Anwar Al-Awlaki, the American-Yemeni cleric whose Internet sermons promoted terror in the West. Al-Awlaki was killed by a drone strike in Yemen in 2011.
After traveling from Nigeria to Yemen, the al-Qaida leadership there gave Babafemi almost $9,000 to finance recruitment of English-speakers in Nigeria, the papers said.
The al-Qaida branch has claimed responsibility for numerous terrorist attacks, including the 2009 attempted bombing of a Northwest Airline flight from Amsterdam to Detroit by a Nigerian with explosives hidden in his underwear.
Babafemi faces a maximum of life in prison if convicted on all counts. There was no immediate response to a message left Friday with his attorney.
Follow Hays on Twitter: https://twitter.com/APtomhays