- The Washington Times - Monday, January 6, 2003

HONG KONG, Jan. 6 (UPI) — Two Pakistanis and an Indian-born U.S. citizen agreed in a Hong Kong court on Monday to be extradited to the United States on charges of conspiring to sell drugs and assist terrorist organizations.

The three have been charged with conspiring to sell drugs in exchange for Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, which they told undercover agents they intended to sell to the Taliban, the former rulers of much of Afghanistan.

Prosecutors said they had told agents the missiles were going to Osama bin Laden's al Qaida network. The Taliban had provided a haven for bin Laden in Afghanistan.

The suspects were identified as: Syed Mustajab Shah, 54, a Pakistani national; Muhammad Abid Afridi, 29, a Pakistani national; and Ilyas Ali, 55, an Indian-born U.S. citizen. Their decision to agree to be sent to the United States was considered a surprise.

The men are to sign documents stating they agreed to be extradited and Hong Kong's chief executive must approve the extradition, a process that could take several weeks.

If convicted, each man could be sentenced to life in prison and fined $4 million on the drug charges. The allegation of supporting terrorists carries a maximum penalty of 15 year in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The three were arrested Sept. 20 on charges of "conspiring to distribute heroin and hashish, to import heroin and hashish and provide material support and resources to designated terrorist organizations." Authorities allege that an investigation, which involved the FBI, showed the suspects were attempting to negotiate a sale of more than 1,000 pounds of heroin and 5 metric tons of hashish in exchange for missiles.

Before they met in Hong Kong, the indictment says Ali met with FBI agents in California last April to discuss a drug deal. In their meeting in Hong Kong, the three said they would take the missiles as a swap for the drugs. They allegedly said to FBI agents that the missiles were intended for al Qaida.

Hong Kong has an extradition agreement with the United States. A new customs agreement is also in place to help combat global terrorism with U.S. and Hong Kong customs officials working alongside each other.

Hong Kong is a massive shipping hub and U.S. officials feared terrorists might attempt to plant explosives aboard a container due to be shipped to the United States.

The U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong had no comment on the proceedings as the case is still in process.




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