City man held on charges of terror links

He is accused of trying to help armed group

Lashkar-e-Taiba Pakistan-based

Cabdriver said to have gone to training camp

August 05, 2005|By Matthew Dolan | Matthew Dolan,SUN STAFF

Federal authorities accused a Baltimore cabdriver yesterday of conspiring to help the armed wing of a Pakistan-based religious organization labeled a terrorist group by the U.S. government.

Mahmud Faruq Brent, also known as Mahmud Al Mutazzim, is alleged to have attended an overseas terrorist camp and taken martial arts training in trying to assist Lashkar-e-Taiba, which roughly translates to "Army of the Righteous."

Arrested in Newark, N.J., yesterday afternoon, Brent, 30, was ordered held without bail in U.S. District Court in New York City, prosecutors said. Attempts to reach Brent's family or attorney were unsuccessful.

About 20 FBI agents and members of Maryland's anti-terrorism task force searched his West Baltimore home. Witnesses said they carried documents and at least one computer from the three-story, multifamily house in the 5300 block of Gwynn Oak Ave.

Kim Wilkens, 51, a carpenter subcontractor, was working on the home's roof when the lunchtime raid unfolded. "We was on our way down to take a break, and they was greeting us with guns. They told us to come down, and they had their guns pointing at us," he said.

Kevin Perkins, the special agent in charge of the FBI's Baltimore field office, confirmed that his agency assisted with the New York-led investigation but declined to comment on specifics.

"Look at the position of the Baltimore-Washington area," Perkins said. "We have major interstates, major airports, a major port. We have to assume that we're potentially a terrorist-type target."

The 13-page criminal complaint alleges that Brent was involved with Lashkar-e-Taiba from 2001 until May of this year. Part of his support included attending a training camp run by Lashkar during a visit to Pakistan in 2002, agents said in court papers.

Terrorism experts were divided over whether the little-known Lashkar-e-Taiba had expanded its scope to activities beyond territorial disputes with India.

"They still have 200 open offices in Pakistan," said Bruce Hoffman, terrorism analyst at the think tank Rand Corp. and director of its Washington office. "They have increasingly played a role as an al-Qaida surrogate because al-Qaida is on the run, and because they're not in al-Qaida proper, they're able operate under the radar better."

In addition to allegations of a visit to a terrorist camp, federal authorities allege that Brent received martial arts training in Dutchess County in upstate New York from Tarik Shah, a Bronx jazz musician who is under indictment in the Southern District of New York on similar charges.

Before yesterday's arrest, Shah became a confidential informant against Brent, his former student, according to court documents. But it was another confidential informant who lured Shah into talking, the documents state.

"Shah informed [the confidential informant] that he had previously discussed with other `brothers' how `we could pass' knowledge onto `brothers who are ready'" to fight jihad, according to the criminal complaint filed against Brent.

Investigators said they later learned that Shah had an address book containing telephone numbers for "Mahmud Al Mutazzim" and "Sayfullah." Telephone records reveal that one of the numbers listed for "Al Mutazzim" was listed to Brent's wife, Taisha Abdel-Aziz, at his Baltimore home, court papers show.

The number listed for "Sayfullah" was listed to an address used by Seifullah Chapman, prosecutors said.

Chapman was among 11 Muslim men charged with taking part in paramilitary training, including playing paintball in the Virginia countryside, to prepare for jihad abroad. His federal prison sentence for terrorism and firearms charges was reduced last month to 65 years.

But Chapman has steadfastly declared the case against him a sham, and other Muslin groups have criticized the federal prosecutions as reflecting religious persecution.

In the Brent investigation, court records say that Shah told an undercover FBI agent about his martial arts students who had gone overseas to training camps in Afghanistan and Yemen. One student he identified was Brent, whom he called "Mahmud Al Mutazzim."

Shah told authorities he had trained Brent in martial arts in 2001 when they both lived in Beacon, N.Y., about 55 miles north of New York City. The training ended after the Sept. 11 attacks, when the officials at the local mosque essentially "kicked" them out, according to court papers.

Shah heard that Brent went to a training camp in Pakistan in 2002, the court papers said.

Brent reportedly told Shah how "difficult" it was to be back in the United States and not to be in training, court papers said. Shah believed Brent could be trusted because he was a longtime student who started "seeking the way to become mujahedeen," according to the papers.

According to the criminal complaint, Shah also told the undercover agent that he intended to call Brent for help preparing a demonstration martial arts video for jihadists training as part of Lashkar.

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