Imam admits tipping off New York bomb suspect
Agence France Presse, March 5, 2010
New York (AFP) — A Muslim cleric is set to be expelled from the United States after pleading guilty to lying to FBI agents when they probed a major bomb plot in New York last year.
Ahmad Wais Afzali, 39, reversed an earlier plea of not guilty and admitted in federal court in Brooklyn to making false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Under a plea agreement he faces a reduced prison sentence of up to six months.
He would then have to leave the United States, where he is a permanent resident working as an imam at a New York mosque, but not a citizen.
Arrested in September last year, Mr Afzali was charged with lying to FBI agents about tipping off Najibullah Zazi, an Afghan immigrant who has since confessed to conspiring to bomb New York.
According to prosecutors, Mr Afzali telephoned Zazi to warn him that he was being watched. Zazi subsequently abandoned the bomb plot and returned from New York to his home in Denver, Colorado.
In court, Mr Afzali wept as he admitted to lying to the FBI, but said he had only called Zazi to help New York police who came to him for information on the terrorism suspect.
'On September 7, I called Najibullah Zazi. During that conversation I told Najibullah that law enforcement authorities had been to see me about him,' he said.
But when the FBI asked him about this six days later, he denied having had the conversation.
'When I was asked whether I had told Zazi about law enforcement being interested in him, I lied and said I did not.'
Mr Afzali, 39, is originally from Afghanistan but has family and deep roots in New York.
The plea bargain saw his charge reduced from lying to the FBI in a terrorism case to simply lying. That will reduce his sentence when a judge rules in April.
However, the bargain also stipulates his departure from the country within 90 days of leaving prison.
Mr Afzali, who remained free on bail ahead of sentencing, said outside the court that he was diabetic and that abroad he would not be able to get proper treatment. 'I just signed my death sentence,' he said.
Mr Afzali said he was 'truly, deeply sorry' but he also sounded a bitter note: 'I helped the government and this is what I get.'