Missile case signals new US-Russia co-operation




By Mark Huband, Security Correspondent

Financial Times, 14 August 2003

The intelligence operation that led to the arrest of an alleged arms dealer in the US on Tuesday signalled a breakthrough in US-Russian security co-operation, intelligence and security officials said yesterday.

President George W. Bush said the sting demonstrated the success of America’s security efforts since September 11 2001. “America’s a safe place for people to fly, precisely because we’re working hard to make sure that our homeland security is strong,” he said.

A UK citizen, Hemant Lakhani, was arrested in New Jersey after Federal Bureau of Investigation and Russian FSB agents lured him into a deal in which he was allegedly to sell a Russian-made shoulder-held SA18 Igla surface-to-air missile to FBI informants posing as Islamic extremists. According to US officials, Mr Lakhani was told the Islamists intended to use the missile to shoot down an airliner.

Mr Lakhani appeared yesterday in a New Jersey federal court where he was accused of providing material support to terrorists and illegal weapons dealing, said Christopher Christie, US attorney. A second man, Moinuddeen Ahmed Hameed, faces charges of money-laundering. A third man, Yehuda Abraham, was arrested in New York on Tuesday.

London police yesterday raided Mr Lakhani’s home and a second residence in London, but made no arrests.

According to an FBI affadavit, the operation that led to the arrests began when an FBI informant began talking with Mr Lakhani about obtaining anti-aircraft guns and missiles. The witness told Mr Lakhani he represented a Somali group that wanted to buy one missile initially and more in the future. Tapped telephone calls are alleged to have recorded Mr Lakhani praising Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader.

The affadavit goes on to say that on September 17 2002, Mr Lakhani and the informant met at a hotel overlooking Newark airport, and Mr Lakhani “verified with the co-operating witness that the purpose of shooting down a commercial aircraft was to cause economic harm to the US”. “Make one explosion … to shake the economy,” Mr Lakhani is quoted in the affadavit as saying.

In April 2002 Mr Lakhani and the informant discussed types of shoulder-fired missiles at a hotel in New Jersey. Mr Lakhani allegedly said he could supply as many as 200 missiles.

On August 20, Mr Lakhani faxed to the witness a document listing a price for the missile and launcher. In October a price of $85,000 was set.

Mr Lakhani travelled to Moscow on July 12 2003, where he allegedly met the co-operating witness and two officers of Russia’s Federal Security Service posing undercover as suppliers.

Earlier this month, Mr Lakhani allegedly agreed to travel to New Jersey to verify shipment of the first missile and to arrange future missile deals.


© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.