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Officials Addresses Reporters on Charges Against Missile Plot Suspects

Aired August 13, 2003 - 11:36   ET


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Take you straight to Christopher Christie, the U.S. attorney talking about the missile sting operation live outside the federal courthouse in Newark, New Jersey.
CHRISTOPHER CHRISTIE, NEW JERSEY U.S. ATTORNEY: ... Jan Killhooley (ph), the secret -- special agent in charge of the Secret Service here in Newark. Sam Plumeri (ph) from the Port of Authority of New York and New Jersey. And from my office, assistant United States attorneys Jeff Clark (ph) and Bryan Howe (ph).

This morning, the terrorists who threatened America lost an ally in their quest to kill our citizens. Complaints, as you know, were brought this morning against Hekmat Lakhani, who was charged with two counts, one of aiding terrorists by attempting to import into this country for sale to a terrorist organization a shoulder-fired missile, specifically, for the purpose of shooting an American commercial airliner out of the sky.

It's important to note that this is an incredible triumph in the war against terrorism in this country and a joint effort spearheaded by the Joint Terrorism Task Force headquartered here in Newark, led by our FBI and joined not only by the people you see behind me, but by state and local law enforcement as well.

In addition, this could not have been accomplished without the help of the Russian government, who played an indispensable role in being able to make sure that the plan of these terrorists was never to be followed through. Also, the government of Great Britain for their help and assistance in being able to bring this to a successful conclusion today.

There is no question that Mr. Lakhani was someone who was sympathetic to the beliefs of the terrorists who were trying to do damage to our country. As is detailed in the criminal complaint, he on many occasions, in recorded conversations, referred to Americans as "bastards," Osama bin Laden as a "hero who had done something right and set the Americans straight," and who knew full well that the arms dealing he was engaging in was being engaged in to attempt to kill American citizens and to try to shake the stability of our American economy.

This investigation lasted about a year and a half through the enormous efforts of everyone that you see behind you. We have in custody today three men who were prepared, for money, to allow Americans to be threatened and perhaps killed. We are proud of the work that we've done. And to the citizens of this area and to the country I would say that today is a good day. We know we're under threat. The president has made clear we are in an ongoing war against terrorism. And today the good guys won a battle in that war.

I would like to introduce Louie Allen, the special agent in charge of the FBI here in Newark for comments. Louie.

LOUIE F. ALLEN, SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE, FBI, NEWARK: Good morning. As Mr. Christie said, this investigation was a product of the Newark Joint Terrorism Task Force. And I'd like to give special thanks to some of the agencies here, U.S. Customs Service, Vice, U.S. Secret Service, the New Jersey State Police, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, New Jersey Office of Counterterrorism, the Newark Police Department and elements of the Department of Defense.

And my special thanks to British law enforcement authorities. And a real special thanks to the Russian Federal Security Service. This is the first time that American law enforcement authorities have ever worked with a branch of the Russian Security Service in this type of investigation. This is a first. And it won't be the last. They've been our partners throughout this and we really appreciate their cooperation.

The Joint Terrorism Task Force here in the New Jersey area, we're a conglomeration of many different agencies. We're headquartered basically in the FBI office. But we're out here every day. You don't hear a lot about the people involved, but they're working day and night, 24 hours a day doing investigations, ferreting out leads on suspected terrorists or terrorist supporters.

They're here, and they're a product of the law enforcement agencies within the state of New Jersey and they're doing an outstanding job. Right now they're under the direction of my ASAC Edward Dixon (ph) and my supervisor Kevin Kline (ph). They are the leaders and they've done a great job and we really appreciate the efforts done by everybody. And the cooperation of all my partners here in law enforcement, and Mr. Christie and his office. We really appreciate it.

CHRISTIE: Thank you, Louie.

I'd like to take the opportunity now to introduce General Sergei Fomenko from the FSB in Russia. As Louie pointed out, their help was absolutely indispensable in our ability to be able to prevent an attack on the United States. I thank on behalf of the Justice Department our friends in Russia who -- without whom we could not have done the work we've done today. General Fomenko.

GEN. SERGEI FOMENKO, RUSSIAN FED. SECURITY SVC.: (through translator): Good afternoon, dear colleagues. Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Good afternoon...


FOMENKO (through translator): Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Good afternoon colleagues.

Well, I wish that we conduct those kind of operations less and less often, honestly.

And I hope that the joint operation that has been conducted with our U.S. and British colleagues will yield positive results that you all know about.

And I would like to thank objective coverage in media of this operation and of what has happened here in the United States.

And I'd like to pay special attention and place a special emphasis on the issue of military and technical cooperation between the United States and Russia.

And such arms or (UNINTELLIGIBLE) resistance (ph) like this portable system, Igla, is controlled by the government of the Russian Federation.

And what happened here, the fact that it's -- it has gotten into the United States is something that happened outside the framework of this control and this military cooperation.

And criminal elements living in Russia and abroad found an opportunity to buy this kind of equipment and this kind of weapon.

And through our investigative effort -- through our investigative effort, we have managed to identify, locate the people who acquired the weapon and tried to sell it abroad.

And we, working with our American and British colleagues, managed to identify this transaction and prevent it from happening.

And -- and on behalf of the Federal Security Service of Russia and of my supervisors, I would like to thank my colleagues from the FBI, from Homeland Security Department and from the British Counter Intelligence.

Thank you very much.

CHRISTIE: Thank you, General.


QUESTION: Can I ask if you could tell us anything about that this one single missile was a sample missile, could have been part of a (OFF-MIKE) of 50? And where was he getting this money from? (OFF- MIKE) a terrorist organization?

CHRISTIE: Well let's break that apart.

Yes, this was a sample missile. Mr. Lakhani told the cooperating witness, with our law enforcement officers, that we would have to order another 50 of these missiles to make the deal worthwhile.

And yesterday was supposed to be the day that not only this missile was delivered but that an initial down payment of approximately $500,000 was to be made on the next 50 missiles. That represented a 10 percent down payment that was to be made to Mr. Lakhani yesterday for an additional 50 missiles that he represented he could obtain for what he believed to be a terrorist organization. The operation was then taken down yesterday before that half a million dollars was paid.

QUESTION: And then the Hamid question. Where would he have gotten the half a million dollars from? Did he have a half million dollars?

CHRISTIE: No, no. He wanted a half a million dollars for us to give as good faith to his suppliers to show that we were, quote, "real customers." Here.


QUESTION: Where did the missile come into the United States? Was it Newark or where did it actually come?

CHRISTIE: I'm not going to talk specifically about where it came in. I'm going to be very restricted to the bounds of the criminal complaint that you have. But be assured that it came in through New Jersey. But we, as you know, were aware the entire time, working with our Russian colleagues, where this missile was.

And, again, it's important to emphasize that this was a dud missile. This was not a real missile. It was made to look like a real missile in order to continue the investigation and that Mr. Lakhani would feel comfortable that the missile would actually be delivered.

But right from the beginning, Joint Terrorism Task Force, British intelligence and most importantly our Russian partners knew where this was and how this was going. And we were just waiting for the end date, which came yesterday.


QUESTION: Can I ask you a about the terrorism connection? As far as you know there was absolutely no direct connection from these three individuals to any terrorism group. Is that correct or...

CHRISTIE: That's correct. That's correct. Mr. Lakhani believed -- Mr. Lakhani believed and proved himself willing to deal with groups that he thought were terrorists and that specifically stated that they intended to use this missile for terrorist activity in the United States against commercial airliners.

So Mr. Lakhani knew full well what he was doing, why he was doing it. And as I told you and as put out, I think, in good detail in the criminal complaint, he very clearly expressed his sentiments towards this country and its citizens.

Jonathan (ph). Jonathan.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) is there any evidence that he had any past dealings with terror networks or terror groups in the past?

CHRISTIE: There is information that he does have a history of being an international arms dealer. Beyond that, Jonathan, I can't answer.

Right there.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) got onto the radar of your people and how the whole thing went down? Where did it start? Russia? How did you get to know (OFF-MIKE)?

CHRISTIE: Without getting into specifics that would compromise the ongoing investigation, what I can tell you is that the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force here in Newark became aware of him through a cooperating witness. And the investigation went from there. And all of these other intelligence groups were brought in as partners with the FBI as this progressed.

Remember, this investigation has been an 18-month-long investigation. This began right after I came into office in January of 2002 and was brought to a conclusion today. So it's been an 18- month-long investigation that we've brought partners together with all of us led by the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force.

QUESTION: A follow-up to clarify. He was a confidential witness or...

CHRISTIE: Cooperating witness.

QUESTION: I'm sorry, cooperating witness or was it...


CHRISTIE: The initial contact was with a cooperating witness of the Joint Terrorism Task Force.

QUESTION: His associates in the Newark area, are those people who are going to be arrested or what's up with that?

CHRISTIE: Steve (ph), the investigation's ongoing. There may be more action taken. But at this point I'm not going to be specific.

Over here.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) on the fact it always seems to come back to New Jersey whether this with the missile coming here, the plane leaving for 9/11, the anthrax? (OFF-MIKE)?

CHRISTIE: Listen, we've discussed this many times before. Because of our geographic location, our proximity to New York City, and because here in New Jersey we are, and are proud to be, an ethnic melting pot, people who want to do harm to the United States can often use New Jersey as a staging area. They can fit in if they're of different ethnic backgrounds very easily.

And so that's why the Joint Terrorism Task Force is as active as it is here in New Jersey, works as hard as it does. And as SAC Allen said, these are people who are working every day. We only have days like this every once in a while. But every day, they're working very hard to try to do what the president has mandated us to do, which is to catch the people who intend to do us harm before they do us harm.

It's been an entire change of philosophy in law enforcement. And here in New Jersey, I think you're seeing a perfect example of the fact that it's working. It's working to protect our citizens.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) you're saying of this dealer. Do you know of any potential buyers (OFF-MIKE)?

CHRISTIE: No, not in connection with this transaction, no.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) be clear on the role of all three in this particular scheme. The other two men who were involved in helping arrange, could you...

CHRISTIE: Yes. Sure. Mr. Abraham, who will be the subject of a Rule 40 (ph) hearing later on this afternoon in New York and be brought back to New Jersey, was the person who accepted the initial $30,000 down payment on behalf of Mr. Lakhani. And then presumably got that money overseas to accounts that Mr. Lakhani controlled.

Mr. Hamid was a new person brought into from Malaysia just yesterday, we presume, because of the size of the payment -- $30,000 initially now to a $500,000 payment -- was going to be such that Mr. Lakhani was not going to just have Mr. Abraham handle that money, but he was going to have Mr. Hamid handle the money as well. And that's before any money passed hands, they were both apprehended by the Joint Terrorism Task Force.


COLLINS: All right, you are listening right now to U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie addressing a group of reporters outside of the federal courthouse in Newark, New Jersey on this missile sting operation that we've been telling you about all morning.

Pictures now that we are getting illustrations from the courthouse and that proceeding of Hekmat Lakhani and Moinuddeen Hamid, Hekmat Lakhani you see there in the white and Moinuddeen Hamid, the man in the blue shirt.

What has happened today is they have waived the charges against them. I want to tell you a little bit about what that charge is, that we have just learned from U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie. Aiding terrorists for selling a shoulder-fired missile to a group that intended to use the missile in America on commercial airliners. Now, this sting was spearheaded by the FBI, it's a group known as the Joint Terrorism Task Force based in New Jersey.

Once again, the U.S. attorney calling Russia indispensable in its role in what the U.S. attorney said was a plot to kill Americans, something we have not heard before. Also working with the British government on this sting operation. Finally, the last thing sticking out in my mind through all of this is that yesterday was supposed to be the down payment that was going to be made for 50 more missiles that this person -- Hekmat Lakhani -- was going to be bringing into the United States. Said he could get them to the United States through his suppliers. He was asking for a half a million dollars to show as good faith money that this sting operation could actually happen.


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