The FBI arrested a Florida doctor and New York martial arts expert on federal terrorism charges, saying they conspired to treat and train al Qaeda terrorists, federal prosecutors announced Sunday.
Dr. Rafiq Abdus Sabir, a Boca Raton physician, and Tarik Shah, a self-described martial arts expert in New York, were both charged in Manhattan federal court with conspiring to provide material support to al Qaeda, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Southern District of New York.
New York police spokesman Paul Browne said Shah was arrested early Friday. Florida authorities said Sabir was arrested Saturday. Both are U.S. citizens.
Sabir, 50, was being held at the Palm Beach County Jail. There was no phone listing for Sabir in Boca Raton. Prosecutors didn't say where Shah, 42, was being held, and a phone number listed for Shah in Poughkeepsie, N.Y, rang unanswered.
It was not immediately known whether either man had an attorney.
Prosecutors said Sabir agreed to treat jihadists, or holy warriors, in Saudi Arabia, while Shah agreed to train them in hand-to-hand combat.
The one-count complaint details a sting operation beginning in 2003 in which the two men took an oath pledging their allegiance to al Qaeda.
Both had multiple meetings with a confidential source and an undercover agent posing as an al Qaeda operative and recruiter. Many of the meetings were recorded, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said Shah presented himself and Sabir as a "package deal."
Shah allegedly indicated he wanted to train fighters "to wage jihad" and to "find people who were willing to press the fight," prosecutors said.
Shah also inspected a warehouse in Long Island to determine if it was suitable as a training facility, and he described his previous attempts to recruit others, which included a trip to Phoenix. He said he would give a training manual for hand-to-hand combat and a videotape to the undercover agent so that others in the Middle East could see his "usefulness to the cause," prosecutors said.
From Shah, agents obtained the names and telephone numbers of other people who went abroad to training camps in the Middle East, including Seifullah Champan. Champan was a member of the Virginia Jihad Network, who was convicted of providing material support to a Pakistan-based terror group in March 2004. He was sentenced to 85 years in prison.
On May 20, both men met with the undercover agent in the Bronx. Sabir was to fly to Saudi Arabia on Thursday to work as a physician at a Saudi military base, prosecutors said.
Both men are scheduled for their first court appearances in federal court on Tuesday, Shah in New York and Sabir in Florida.
If convicted both men face a maximum sentence of 15 years in jail and a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss resulting from the crime.
Shah's mother, Marlene Jenkins, called the charges against her son "ridiculous."
"He's no terrorist," Jenkins, of Albany, N.Y., told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel for Monday's editions. She described her son as a jazz musician who helped her manage her properties.
Sabir is a licensed medical doctor in Florida, New York and Pennsylvania, according to the Florida Department of Health Web site. He received his medical degree from Columbia University in 1981 and his bachelor's degree in Biology from City of New York College.
Daniel McBride, spokesman for the Islamic Center of Boca Raton, said Sabir lived in a Boca Raton gated community with Arleen Morgan, a registered nurse, and their two young sons.
Sabir's two grown children from a previous marriage had been visiting him when he was arrested, relatives told the newspaper.
"While we were married he was a lovely father and husband, and nothing if not a hardworking man," Sabir's former wife, Ingrid Doyle, of New York City, told the newspaper. "I'm still reeling from this, and my daughter has been crying all day."
Altaf Ali, head of the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told the newspaper that Muslim-American leaders must balance their support of authorities' efforts to thwart terrorism with defending their communities against racial profiling.
"The issue of profiling by law enforcement authorities remains a serious issue within our community. We hope that when it comes to justice, Muslims will receive the same due process as any other American would," Ali told the newspaper.