April 30, 2010 / 6:26 PM / 10 years ago

UPDATE 2-Two NY men charged with aiding al Qaeda

* One man accused of meeting al Qaeda members in Yemen

* Pair appeared in Virginia court Friday, to move to N.Y. (Adds details of court appearance)

By Michelle Nichols

NEW YORK, April 30 (Reuters) - Two New York men have been charged with conspiracy to provide material support to Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network that included providing computer expertise and buying seven watches online for the group, prosecutors said on Friday.

Wesam El-Hanafi, 33, who was born and lived in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, and Sabirhan Hasanoff, 34, a dual U.S. and Australian citizen who also lived in Brooklyn, were accused of performing tasks for al Qaeda in New York, according to a U.S. District Court indictment.

Prosecutors did not elaborate on tasks the men performed or the purpose of the Casio watches they purchased.

“Wesam El-Hanafi and Sabirhan Hasanoff conspired to modernize al Qaeda by providing computer systems expertise and other goods and services,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement. “These two New Yorkers, who allegedly pledged allegiance to al Qaeda, will now be held to account.”

Prosecutors declined to say when and where El-Hanafi and Hasanoff were arrested. They appeared in federal court in Virginia on Friday and were detained. The men are expected to be moved to New York at a later date. They face a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison if convicted.

Al Qaeda is blamed for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center in New York that killed almost 3,000 people when hijacked airliners destroyed the twin towers. Another hijacked plane hit the Pentagon in Washington and a fourth was brought down in a Pennsylvania field.

The arrests of El-Hanafi and Hasanoff come just a week after a second man pleaded guilty in a separate plot to bomb New York City subways, which U.S. authorities called the most serious threat to the city since Sept. 11.

El-Hanafi is accused of traveling to Yemen in 2008 and meeting with al Qaeda members, discussing operational security matters and accepting tasks to perform for the group.

Several months later El-Hanafi accepted an oath of allegiance from a third, unidentified, man and also purchased a subscription for a software program that allowed him to communicate securely with others over the Internet, according to prosecutors.

El-Hanafi told the unnamed man to carry out various tasks for al Qaeda, while Hasanoff told the man not to use his U.S. passport when traveling because fewer immigration stamps would make it more valuable to al Qaeda, prosecutors said. (Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Eric Beech)

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