Two Iraqi refugees living in Bowling Green schemed to ship sniper rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, explosives and money to their home country to be used in attacks on U.S. troops, a federal grand jury has charged.
One of the men, Waad Ramadan Alwan, 30, also was charged with conspiring to kill U.S. troops in Iraq before he came to the United States.
Weapons the two transported from Bowling Green didn't actually make it into the hands of al-Qaida members in Iraq because the shipments were part of an undercover investigation of the men by the FBI.
However, Alwan, 30, and Mohanad Shareef Hammadi, 23, thought they were working with a middleman to funnel supplies and cash to terrorists in Iraq, authorities said.
"With these arrests, which are the culmination of extraordinary investigative work by law enforcement and intelligence officials, the support provided by these individuals comes to an end, and they will face justice," Todd Hinnen, acting attorney general for national security, said in a statement.
The two are not accused of planning attacks on targets inside the United States.
The FBI arrested Alwan and Hammadi on May 25, but the case was sealed until after the two made their initial appearance in federal court in Louisville on Tuesday. They pleaded not guilty.
Their attorneys declined comment on the case after the hearing, according to The Associated Press.
Dean Boyd, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice, said the investigation was continuing.
"If the investigation suggests others are involved, we will pursue those investigative leads," Boyd said.
Alwan and Hammadi could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted.
According to information released by federal officials, both men came to the United States after being granted refugee status.
Alwan moved from Iraq to Bowling Green in April 2009. Hammadi moved from Iraq to Las Vegas in July 2009, then moved to Bowling Green.
An official with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, who provided information on the condition of not being identified, said the fact the two were granted refugee status shows specific gaps in the screening process that existed earlier.
Previously, people seeking refugee status were matched against a more limited number of databases.
Homeland Security, the State Department and other federal agencies have since expanded the range of information used to screen applicants so that checks are much more rigorous, the official said.
The government now also goes back to recheck people as new records become available, including people who have been admitted to the United States, the official said.
James Robinson, executive director of the International Center in Bowling Green, said the non-profit organization has helped resettle about 250 Iraqi refugees in Bowling Green since 2008.
Robinson said his organization does not divulge the names of clients with whom it works, and he declined to discuss whether he had encountered Alwan and Hammadi.
An Iraqi government spokesman told the AP that the government is trying to find out more about the two men, but he had no information Tuesday.
The FBI began investigating Alwan in September 2009.
An affidavit that spelled out the allegations against him did not say what led authorities to begin investigating him, and Boyd said he could not comment on that.
Alwan later recruited Hammadi, whom he said was a relative, into the scheme and mentioned the possibility of recruiting another man as well, according to a sworn statement from Richard Glenn, the FBI special agent who investigated.
In 2010, Alwan began talking with a person who was helping the FBI. That person, not named in court records, secretly recorded conversations with Alwan and Hammadi.
Alwan told the unnamed source that he had carried out numerous attacks with improvised explosive devices and sniper attacks on U.S. troops as an insurgent in Iraq.
His attacks "f----d up" or targeted vehicles carrying troops, Alwan told the source.
Alwan referred to himself as a "mujahid," a Muslim engaged in holy war, Glenn said in his affidavit.
Authorities were careful to say in the news release that the case was not an indictment of a particular religious community, but rather two individuals.
In fact, the state director of the FBI, Elizabeth A. Fries, said the agency would vigorously pursue anyone who targets Muslims or their places of worship for "backlash-related threats or violence in the wake of these arrests."
Alwan told the confidential source working with the FBI that he was good with a sniper rifle and that his "lunch and dinner would be an American," Glenn said in his statement.
Alwan also said he had procured missiles and explosive materials when he was in Iraq and had helped plant numerous IEDs.
His group carried out daily strikes, Alwan told the FBI source.
In one case, Alwan talked of planting an IED at a spot where a traffic detour often caused Americans to slow down, meaning it would be a good place for an attack.
However, another insurgent was killed at that spot when his IED exploded prematurely, Alwan said.
Glenn said there was other evidence to corroborate Alwan's statements to the source.
For instance, in January, FBI analysts identified two latent fingerprints from Alwan on a piece of an unexploded IED that troops had found in Iraq in September 2005, Glenn said.
The prints were on a cordless telephone base that matched the brand Alwan had said he used, according to the court document.
In September 2010, Alwan allegedly started doing more than talking about his past activities, agreeing to help deliver weapons and money that he thought would be shipped to Iraq for use against U.S. troops, according to the indictment.
Alwan also drew diagrams of four types of IEDs for the source.
The roadside bombs should be packed with "whatever item that kills," such as nails or ball bearings, Alwan told the source, according to a portion of the recorded statement cited in a court document.
The source who was helping the FBI had told Alwan he worked for a group trying to help insurgents in Iraq, led by a man called the Hajji who got money from Osama bin Laden, according to court documents.
His role was to pick up weapons at a storage unit the FBI had rented in Bowling Green and deliver them to Franklin, where they would be hidden in a tractor-trailer, according to court documents.
The FBI had made the weapons at the storage unit inoperable.
Last November, Alwan picked up three rocket-propelled grenade launchers and three machine guns from the storage unit and took them to Franklin, where the source helping the FBI met him and hid them in a car on the tractor-trailer, according to Glenn's statement.
In January, Alwan and Hammadi delivered what they thought was $100,000 to the truck in Franklin, and Hammadi hid it in a compartment.
The next month, Alwan and Hammadi took two rocket-propelled grenade launchers, two sniper rifles, two machine guns and some plastic explosives from the storage unit and delivered the weapons to the truck, Glenn said in his statement.
Later, Alwan told the source he felt a sense of purpose.
"When I did it and returned back, I was so comfortable I want to fly from joy," Alwan allegedly told the source.
In March, Alwan and Hammadi took two Stinger surface-to-air missiles to the tractor-trailer to be delivered to Iraq, Glenn said.
Authorities kept close tabs on both men in the months leading up to the arrests to make sure they didn't pose a broader threat.
Alwan was charged with conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals abroad, conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction against U.S. nationals, distributing information on making IEDs, attempting to provide support to terrorists, and conspiring to possess and export Stinger missiles, according to a news release.
Hammadi is charged with attempting to provide support to terrorists, and with conspiring to possess and export the missiles.
David Beyer, a spokesman for the FBI, said the case was a collaboration of the FBI and the Louisville terrorism task force, which includes Louisville police, Kentucky State Police, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Marshals Service.
A Lexington-based anti-terrorism task force, which includes Lexington police and police from the University of Kentucky, also helped.
Bowling Green police, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Department of Defense also helped, the release said.
Federal prosecutors have asked that Alwan and Hammadi be held without bond.
A hearing on the issue is scheduled June 8, Beyer said.