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Ohio trucker joined al Qaeda jihad

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CNN's Kelli Arena reports on trucker Iyman Faris, a naturalized U.S. citizen who pleaded guilty to aiding a terrorist group.
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U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft announces Faris' guilty plea.
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• Criminal information U.S. v. Faris  (FindLaw, PDF)external link
Statement of facts  (FindLaw, PDF)external link
Plea agreement  (FindLaw, PDF)external link
• Interactive: The hunt for al Qaeda
• Audio slide show: Bin Laden's audio message, 2/03
• Special report: Terror on tape
• Special report: War against terror
1994 Faris enters America
1999 Becomes a U.S. citizen
2000 Meets Osama bin Laden at Afghan terror training camp
2000-01 Buys equipment in Pakistan for al Qaeda
2002 Returns to the U.S.
2002-03 Works on plot to destroy New York bridge and derail Washington train.
2003 Surrenders to authorities and agrees to plea agreement

SOURCE: U.S District Court documents

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- An Ohio trucker has admitted to helping plan al Qaeda attacks in the United States after meeting terror chief Osama bin Laden at an Afghanistan terror training camp.

Iyman Faris, 34, checked out the chances of destroying a New York bridge and tried to buy equipment for proposed al Qaeda attacks while appearing to be a law-abiding trucker, according to documents unsealed Thursday in the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia.

Faris pleaded guilty May 1 to providing material support to al Qaeda and to conspiring to do so, according to the documents. The charges together carry as much as 20 years in prison and up to $500,000 in fines.

Sources told CNN that al Qaeda leader Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is in U.S. custody, told his interrogators the target was the 116-year-old Brooklyn Bridge.

New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly told reporters that Faris is believed to have received instructions directly from senior al Qaeda leaders, including Shaikh Mohammed.

Born in Kashmir in June 1969, Faris entered the United States in May 1994 and became a U.S. citizen in December 1999, working as a truck driver from his home in Columbus, Ohio.

"On any given day, Iyman Faris appeared to be a hard-working, independent truck driver," Attorney General John Ashcroft told a news conference Thursday. "But Faris led a secret double life."

Ashcroft said: "[Faris] worked in concert with al Qaeda, our enemies, to plot potential attacks against America and our citizens here in his adopted homeland."

Faris' first links to al Qaeda came in late 2000 when he traveled with a longtime friend, who was an operative for the terror group, from Pakistan to Afghanistan, according to the court documents.

During a series of visits to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Faris was introduced to bin Laden and at least one senior operational leader, who gave Faris his orders for when he returned to the United States.

The operational leader, identified in court documents as "C-2" and said to be bin Laden's "number three man," told Faris in 2002 al Qaeda was again planning simultaneous attacks on New York and Washington.

While continuing his job as an independent trucker, Faris was charged with checking whether a New York City bridge could be destroyed by cutting the suspension cables.

He was also ordered to buy equipment for the bridge plot and for the second arm of the simultaneous attack -- derailing a train in the Washington, D.C., area.

In communications to al Qaeda, Faris was told to refer to gas cutters, which would be used to burn through the bridge cables, as "gas stations" and tools for the derailing as "mechanics shops."

Faris researched the bridge on the Internet and asked a friend about how to obtain the gas cutters. He also traveled to New York to check out the bridge and evaluate the chances of a successful attack.

In coded messages, sent to his al Qaeda handlers via an unnamed third party in the United States, Faris said he was still trying to obtain "gas stations" and "mechanics shops" -- or he was still working on the project.

After scouting the bridge and deciding its security and structure meant the plot was unlikely to succeed, he passed along a message to al Qaeda in early 2003 that said "the weather is too hot."

Kelly credited the posting of police in marked cars at the ends of the Brooklyn Bridge, where its suspension cables are considered most vulnerable to attack, for helping foil the plot.

The cars, which slowed bridge traffic, have since been replaced by foot patrols, surveillance cameras and alarms, Kelly said.

Al Qaeda 'escape plane'

Faris, also known as Mohammad Rauf, surrendered to authorities in March. After weeks of negotiations between Faris, his lawyer and U.S. officials, he entered his guilty plea on May 1. Sentencing is scheduled for August 1.

In return for his cooperation and guilty plea, prosecutors agreed not to use any of the information he provided against him in other cases and to place him in the Witness Protection Program if it's determined he faces "significant risk of physical harm."

As a trucker, Faris was making deliveries to cargo planes at airports and businesses "without raising a suspicion," Ashcroft said.

In court documents Faris also said C2 was interested in cargo planes because they would hold more weight and more fuel."

start quote"[Faris] worked in concert with al Qaeda, our enemies, to plot potential attacks against America and our citizens here in his adopted homeland."end quote
-- Attorney General John Ashcroft

Before working in the United States for al Qaeda, Faris completed a number of al Qaeda jobs in Pakistan, the court documents said.

In his first visit to an al Qaeda camp one of bin Laden's men asked him about ultralight planes and said al Qaeda was seeking to buy an "escape airplane," the documents said.

About two months later, Faris went to an Internet cafe in Karachi where he looked up information on ultralights and provided it to an al Qaeda representative.

In Pakistan, Faris helped procure 2,000 sleeping bags for use by al Qaeda and delivered cash and cell phones to an al Qaeda operative.

In late December 2001, he bought several airline tickets to Yemen for use by al Qaeda operatives, the documents said.

A few months later -- and less than a year after the September 11 attacks -- he was introduced to C2 and told of the new planned attacks on New York and Washington.

CNN Correspondent Kelli Arena and Producer Terry Frieden contributed to this report.

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