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Tunisian man indicted in visa ploy to foment terrorism
Feds say he wanted to develop U.S. network
Federal authorities have charged a Tunisian man with fraud in applying for a work visa to remain in the U.S. to facilitate what officials said were acts of terrorism, to develop a network of terrorists in the United States, and to use this country as a base to support the efforts of terrorists internationally.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara for the Southern District of New York said Ahmed Abassi was arrested April 22 and arraigned May 2 before U.S. District Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum. The charges against Mr. Abassi were unsealed Thursday.
“As alleged, Ahmed Abassi had an evil purpose for seeking to remain in the United States — to commit acts of terror and develop a network of terrorists here, and to use this country as a base to support the efforts of terrorists internationally,” Mr. Bharara said.
According to the indictment, Mr. Abassi, who previously resided in Canada, traveled to the U.S. in mid-March, where he remained until his arrest. While in this country and under surveillance by law enforcement agents, he maintained regular contact with an FBI undercover officer. He also met in New York City with Chiheb Esseghaier, who recently was arrested in Canada and is being held there on terrorism charges.
During Mr. Abassi’s discussions with Mr. Esseghaier and with the undercover officer, according to the indictment, Mr. Abassi discussed his desire to engage in terrorist acts against targets in the U.S. and other countries and his intention to provide support and funding to organizations engaged in terrorist activity — including the al Nusrah Front, which is recognized by the State Department as an alias for al Qaeda in Iraq.
The indictment says he also sought to recruit others for terrorist plots. In particular, it says Mr. Abassi discussed with the undercover informant a number of people known to Mr. Abassi and his associates, whom he described as like-minded and who, in his view, would be willing to engage in terrorist activity.
On April 12, the indictment says, Mr. Abassi and the informant discussed Mr. Abassi’s efforts to recruit others for terrorist plots and that he might be able to obtain immigration documents to remain in the U.S., purportedly in order to work for the informant’s U.S.-based company.
Later, according to the indictment, Mr. Abassi made false statements on two immigration forms, under penalty of perjury, and mailed those forms to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for processing.
During last week’s secret arraignment, Mr. Abassi denied the charges. His attorney Sabrina Shroff told reporters Thursday that her client “flatly denies the accusations in the indictment.”
The indictment charges Mr. Abassi with two counts of knowingly making false statements in an application to the immigration authorities for a green card and work visa in order to facilitate an act of international terrorism. Each count carries a maximum term of 25 years in prison.
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