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Brit-Indian indicted for 'dirty bomb' deal

Hemant Lakhani faces 25 years in jail for attempting to provide material support for terror.

india Updated: Jan 16, 2004 16:45 IST
Nabanita Sircar
Nabanita Sircar

A British arms dealer of Indian origin, Hemant Lakhani, arrested over an alleged attempt to sell a surface-to-air missile to terrorists in the US, has been charged with offering to obtain a radioactive "dirty bomb", prosecutors have confirmed.

The charges, of attempting to provide material support for terrorism and also of engaging in the sale of foreign defence artillery without a licence, carry sentences of 15 years and 10 years respectively.

Lakhani, who lived in north London, was arrested in Newark, New Jersey, on August 12, following an international sting operation involving UK, US and Russian authorities. Following his arrest British anti-terrorism officers raided two addresses in London in connection with the case, one of which was Lakhani's home.

Lakhani is alleged to have smuggled a Russian surface-to-air missile into the US to sell to what he believed were terrorists. Undercover FBI agents posing as Muslim extremists visited Russia to negotiate with him to buy a sophisticated SA-18 Igla missile.

He was arrested at a hotel near Newark Airport as he went to collect a crate containing the weapon that had been shipped to the US, which was apparently allowed to be brought into the country to make the deal seem real. It was done under the supervision of investigators and had been rendered incapable of being fired, said investigators.

A statement from the Public Affairs Office, District of New Jersey, said he had allegedly suggested that the missiles could be "used most effectively in terrorising America if 10 to 15 commercial aircraft were shot down simultaneously across the country".

Lakhani has been in federal custody since his arrest and is expected to be arraigned on the indictment shortly. The investigation into Lakhani began in the months after the September 11, 2001 terrorist strikes. New York diamond dealer Yehuda Abraham, 75, who is charged with money laundering in connection with the alleged missile smuggling plot, was previously released from jail on £6 million bail. A second man, Moinuddeen Ahmed Hameed, 38, remains in custody charged with allegedly helping to transfer cash for missile purchases.

First Published: Jan 16, 2004 16:45 IST