NEW YORK—Wesam El-Hanafi and Sabirhan Hasanoff have pleaded guilty in Manhattan federal court to providing material support, including financial support, equipment, and technical advice, to al Qaeda associates in Yemen and elsewhere, and to conspiring to provide material support to al Qaeda over the course of nearly three years. El-Hanafi pleaded guilty today before U.S. District Court Judge Kimba M. Wood, and Hasanoff pleaded guilty before Judge Kimba Wood on June 4, 2012. They were transferred into U.S. custody following their arrests in the United Arab Emirates in 2010.
The guilty pleas were announced by Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York; Janice K. Fedarcyk, Assistant Director in Charge of the New York Field Office of the FBI; and Raymond W. Kelly, Police Commissioner of the City of New York.
U.S. Attorney Bharara said, “The pleas of these two avowed supporters of al Qaeda is a chilling reminder of the threat of homegrown terrorists and the unwavering vigilance that must be exercised so they can be thwarted—as they were in this case. It is also a reminder of the commitment that we share with our law enforcement partners to identify, prosecute, and punish those who would do harm to the United States and its citizens.”
Beginning in 2007, El-Hanafi and Hasanoff conspired with others to support and receive assignments from al Qaeda. In November 2007, Hasanoff received approximately $50,000 from a co-conspirator (CC-1), with the understanding that at least a portion of the money would be used to support the terrorist organization. In February 2008, El-Hanafi traveled to Yemen, where he met with two members of al Qaeda. While in Yemen, El-Hanafi swore an oath of allegiance to al Qaeda, received instructions from al Qaeda on operational security measures, and received assignments to perform for al Qaeda. Also while in Yemen, El-Hanafi instructed the members of al Qaeda on how to communicate covertly over the Internet in a manner that would avoid law enforcement detection.
After El-Hanafi returned from Yemen, Hasanoff also swore allegiance to al Qaeda. About three months later, in May 2008, El-Hanafi met with CC-1 in Brooklyn to discuss CC-1 also joining al Qaeda, and Hasanoff and El-Hanafi subsequently had additional discussions with CC-1 about joining al Qaeda. During the same approximate time period, El-Hanafi purchased a subscription for a software program that enabled him to communicate securely with others over the Internet.
El-Hanafi and Hasanoff also helped finance the terror group by regularly sending money to al Qaeda through international wire transfers and through couriers. El-Hanafi and Hasanoff also were interested in fighting with al Qaeda in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other locations abroad, and they discussed traveling to engage in jihad, although they never succeeded in participating in armed conflict.
In June 2008, El-Hanafi directed CC-1 to perform various tasks for al Qaeda. At that time, Hasanoff instructed CC-1 not to use his U.S. passport when traveling because a U.S. passport with fewer immigration stamps would be more valuable to al Qaeda.
Additionally, in August 2008, Hasanoff traveled to New York City, where he performed assignments for al Qaeda. El-Hanafi and Hasanoff continued discussions about seeking out more contacts with al Qaeda through 2009.
El-Hanafi, 37, is a U.S. citizen who was born and lived in Brooklyn, New York. Hasanoff, 36, is a dual citizen of the United States and Australia who also resided in Brooklyn.
El-Hanafi and Hasanoff each face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Hasanoff is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Wood on July 23, 2012. El-Hanafi is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Wood on October 22, 2012.
U.S. Attorney Bharara praised the outstanding investigative work of the FBI’s New York-based Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF)—which principally consists of special agents of the FBI and detectives of the New York City Police Department. He also thanked the Department of Justice’s National Security Division and Office of International Affairs, the Department of State, the Kansas City-based JTTF, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Missouri for their extraordinary assistance in this matter.
This case is being handled by the Office’s Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brendan R. McGuire, John P. Cronan, Glen Kopp, Aimee Hector, and Michael Lockard and are in charge of the prosecution.