Owner Of Islamic Food Business, Associate Accused In Murder Plot

CLEVELAND (AP) - Two men accused of plotting double murder and arson-for-hire allegedly wanted to send money to Afghanistan.

Saleh Nawash, who owns Halal Products in Cleveland, and associate Ahmed Jaffal are being held on $1 million bonds prior to court their appearances Wednesday.

Prosecutors persuaded Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Thomas Pokorny to set the bonds.

Nawash and Jaffal are charged with attempted aggravated murder, attempted aggravated arson, attempted aggravated robbery, attempted insurance fraud and conspiracy charges.

Richard H. Blake, an assistant U.S. attorney who handles Middle Eastern crime cases, would not comment on the case and declined to discuss whether the money was intended to be used for terrorism.

The Cuyahoga County indictment filed Tuesday said that the defendants tried to hire a hit man to rob and kill two former business associates and burn down Halal Products in an insurance scheme.

Halal foods are permitted for consumption by Muslims under Islamic dietary laws.

Nawash told an undercover agent that some of the money from the insurance scheme would be sent to support "the cause" in Afghanistan, The Plain Dealer reported Wednesday, citing case investigators. It was not clear what "the cause" means.

The defendants had a money dispute with Jundi Hisham and Farid Mohammed, former business associates, and planned to have them murdered, the newspaper reported investigators as saying.

The charges surprised Nawash's friends. He volunteers at the Islamic Mosque of Cleveland.

"He is a husband and a father. I hope this is wrong," said Sam Qasem, president of the Cleveland Arab American Business Association. "I pray to God it's wrong."

A spokeswoman for Cuyahoga County Prosecutor William Mason said FBI agents received a tip April 23 that Nawash, 54, of Brunswick, and Jaffal, 49, of Akron, had sought out a hit man and arsonist. An undercover agent met with Nawash and Jaffal and arranged the hits.

The prosecutor believes that Nawash and Jaffal wanted the hit man to burn down Halal Products on Sunday. On Monday, the hit man would rob and kill Hisham and Mohammed as the gas station owners prepared to deposit money. The hit man was to be paid $1,000 for the arson and $500 for each murder, plus a share of the money from the robbery.

Qasem said the idea that Nawash would send money to Afghanistan is ridiculous.

"This guy doesn't have two dimes to rub together," Qasem said. "If you give him $10, he's going to buy food for his family."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)