Authorities say by his own admission, he also met Osama bin Laden, sent information and supplies to al Qaeda and cased a potential target for a terrorist strike in New York City.
Ohio truck driver and American citizen Iyman Faris pled guilty May 1 to conspiracy and providing material support to al Qaeda, crimes for which he faces 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.
The plea was kept secret until Thursday, when Attorney General John Ashcroft revealed that Faris, 34, led a "secret, double life."
"From late 2000 to March of this year, Faris worked in concert with al Qaeda, our enemies, to plot potential attacks against America and its citizens," he said.
The Kashmir native arrived in the United States in May 1994 and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in December 1999. Records show that under his alias, Mohammed Rauf, he was married to Geneva Bowling from 1995 to 2000 and lived with her in a small home in Columbus.
When she found out her ex-husband met bin Laden, admitted plots against trains and the Brooklyn Bridge and pleaded guilty to felony terrorism charges, Bowling said she felt "physically ill."
"It just doesn't seem like the person I knew," said Bowling. "I don't feel well. … I'm still in shock. I just need some time for it to sink in."
Those who interacted with Faris recalled a man who sometimes lost his temper but also liked to laugh. He had been working in Columbus for several years.
Mike Bowling, 18, said he hadn't spoken to his former stepfather in two months. "I remember the man had a very good sense of humor," he said.
In Columbus, former neighbors said Faris blared music when working on cars or warming up his commercial rig in his driveway. Some complained about the noise, but described the independent truck driver, who was often on the road, as unapproachable and aloof.
Faris, of Columbus, is cooperating in the investigation of al Qaeda, federal authorities said Thursday.
Ashcroft and senior FBI officials wouldn't disclose details of Faris' arrest. They also would not say whether Faris was part of an active al Qaeda cell in the United States, or whether any of his activities had previously been monitored.
The attorney general said Faris had admitted to getting sleeping bags, cell phones and extensions on airplane tickets for al Qaeda. He also downloaded information on ultralight aircraft, which could be used as escape planes, and giving it to al Qaeda.
Authorities said Faris also received attack instructions from top terror leader Khalid Shaikh Mohammed for what they suggested might have been a second wave planned for New York and Washington to follow the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
At a meeting in early 2002, an al Qaeda operative asked Faris about his job as a truck driver, Ashcroft said. Faris told him he made deliveries to airports, including some directly to cargo planes.
The al Qaeda operative said he was interested in cargo planes because they held "more weight and more fuel," according to Ashcroft.
A statement of fact filed along with the guilty plea says that Faris was instructed by an senior al Qaeda operative — identified as "C-2" in the documents and as bin Laden's "right foot" — to obtain equipment that would enable him to sever the cables on "a bridge in New York City" believed to have been the Brooklyn Bridge.
Although the senior operative is referred to only as "C-2" in the documents, a U.S. law enforcement official speaking on condition of anonymity identified him as Mohammed. He was captured in Pakistan on March 1 and is said to be providing interrogators with a wealth of information about al Qaeda's global reach.
None of the planned attacks occurred.
The statement said that Faris researched the bridge on the Internet and traveled to New York in late 2002 to examine it, concluding that "the plot to destroy the bridge by severing the cables was very unlikely to succeed" because of its security and structure.
Since the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, the Justice Department has obtained a number of guilty pleas from or won court convictions of members of alleged al Qaeda cells, including six of seven members of an alleged cell in Lackawanna, New York.
Two alleged al Qaeda members in Detroit were convicted earlier this month of providing material support and resources to the terrorist group by running an illegal document ring. One other man was acquitted in that case.