U.S. News

Ex-NY student guilty of sending gear to al Qaeda

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A former New York student admitted on Tuesday in Manhattan federal court that while living in London, he helped a friend send waterproof socks, ponchos and sleeping bags to al Qaeda militants in Afghanistan.

Syed Hashmi, 30, a Pakistani-born U.S. citizen, pleaded guilty to one count of material support to a foreign terrorist organization. He faces a 15-year prison sentence and loses the possibility of an appeal and parole.

He told U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska that between January 2004 and May 2006, he helped Junaid Babar, a friend from Queens, New York, transport protective equipment to militants. Hashmi lent him $300 and stored the materials in his apartment.

Hashmi’s guilty plea was part of a last-minute deal with prosecutors in which he admitted to certain charges in exchange for three others counts being dropped, thus avoiding a trial and a possible 70-year sentence.

Jury selection for the trial was set for Wednesday.

Hashmi appeared gaunt and wore a blue prison tunic, sported a thick beard and a white prayer cap. He often punctuated his responses by invoking “the grace of Allah.”

Hashmi was arrested at Heathrow Airport in Britain in June 2006 under an extradition request by U.S. authorities. He arrived in the United States in May 2007, having spent almost a year in detention.

“We were terribly concerned our man was throwing away his life,” said David Ruhnke, Hashmi’s attorney, adding the plea was “the right thing to happen.”

“He’s made the best deal that was available under the circumstances,” Ruhnke said.

Human rights activists have been critical of Hashmi’s conditions of imprisonment, holding regular candlelight vigils. For almost three years, he has been in solitary confinement with 23-hour-a-day lockdowns, constant video surveillance and almost no visitors.

He will be sentenced on June 7.

(Reporting by Basil Katz, Editing by Mark Egan and Cynthia Osterman)