Ohio truck driver pleads guilty to terror charges, linked to al-Qaida

By JONATHAN DREW, Associated Press Writer
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - The news that an Ohio trucker had pleaded guilty to felony terrorism charges and acknowledged meeting Osama bin Laden at an al-Qaida camp in Afghanistan made his ex-wife "physically ill," she said.
"It just doesn't seem like the person I knew," Geneva Bowling said Thursday night of Iyman Faris. "I don't feel well. ... I'm still in shock; I just need some time for it to sink in."
Faris, 34, of Columbus, has admitted plots against trains and the Brooklyn Bridge, and is cooperating in the investigation of al-Qaida, federal authorities said Thursday. He acknowledged in court documents that he met bin Laden and worked with other top al-Qaida officials.
"This case highlights the very real threats that still exist here at home in the United States of America in the war against terrorism," Attorney General John Ashcroft said at a Justice Department news conference in Washington. "While we are disabling al-Qaida, we don't believe it is disabled."
Faris has acknowledged that he met bin Laden in 2000 at an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan and provided operatives there with sleeping bags, cell phones and other assistance, court documents state.
Faris pleaded guilty May 1 to providing material support to terrorists and conspiracy to provide support, according to documents unsealed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va.
Authorities said Faris 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.
Faris, who is represented by a lawyer and said in the documents he was not coerced to plead, could face 20 years in prison and up to $500,000 in fines. Sentencing was set for Aug. 1.
The Kashmir native arrived in the United States in May 1994 and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in December 1999.
In Columbus, former neighbors said Faris liked to blare music when working on cars or warming up his commercial rig in the driveway of his home.
People would complain about the noise, but they described the independent truck driver, who was often on the road, as unapproachable and aloof.
"That someone even associated with this craziness is right here in Columbus, it's sad," said 26-year-old Negla Ross, his former next-door neighbor.
Those who interacted with Faris, also known as Mohammed Rauf, recalled a man who sometimes lost his temper but also liked to laugh. He had been working in Columbus for several years.
Records show that under his alias, he was married to Bowling from 1995 to 2000 and lived with her in a small home in Columbus.
"I have felt physically ill since all this happened; I still do," Bowling, 46, said in a phone interview from her Columbus apartment.
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.
This spring, Faris stayed a couple of weeks with a friend at a Columbus apartment complex. The rental office turned down his application to be put on the lease for the two-bedroom unit because of bad credit, resident manager Craig Cook said.
"He was very upset -- but some people really are when you have to turn them down," Cook said. No one answered at the apartment Thursday.
According to a government statement that Faris signed, an al-Qaida leader instructed Faris to obtain "gas cutters," probably acetylene torches, that would enable him to sever the cables on "a bridge in New York City" that officials said was 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-Qaida's global reach.
To avoid government detection, Faris was told to refer to the cutters as "gas stations."
Mohammed also told Faris that he should obtain heavy torque tools -- code-named "mechanics shops" -- that could be used to derail trains in the United States, the affidavit says. The court papers refer to New York and Washington but provide no further detail about time or location of an attack.
None of the allegedly planned attacks occurred.
Ohio Department of Public Safety spokesman Jeff Grayson said there were no specific threats to the state.
Faris' meetings with al-Qaida took place in 2000, 2001 and early 2002 in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the government statement says.
Faris' original contact with al-Qaida came through a second senior operative, named only as "C-1" or "bin Laden's right foot," whom the government says Faris had known since the Soviet-Afghanistan war in the 1980s.
The statement says that Faris researched the Brooklyn Bridge on the Internet and traveled to New York in late 2002 to examine it, finally concluding that "the plot to destroy the bridge by severing the cables was very unlikely to succeed."
Prosecutors also say Faris was asked by bin Laden associates in late 2000 to research ultralight aircraft that could be used as escape planes by al-Qaida operatives.
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-Qaida cell in the United States, or whether any of his activities had previously been monitored.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)