A Kansas City auto parts dealer who had sworn allegiance to al-Qaida pleaded guilty Wednesday to taking part in a conspiracy to provide financial support to the terrorist group.
Khalid Ouazzani, 32, a Moroccan native who became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2006, admitted that he sent $23,500 to al-Qaida between August 2007 and mid-2008.
Although Ouazzani talked with others about ways to support al-Qaida, including plans for them to fight in Afghanistan, Iraq or Somalia, U.S. Attorney Beth Phillips said he did not pose a threat to the Kansas City area, where he briefly operated a business that sold auto parts and used vehicles.
"At no point prior to his arrest was he any threat to cause imminent harm or danger to the citizens of our community," Phillips said at a news conference.
Ouazzani was arrested in February on 33 counts contained in a sealed grand jury indictment charging him with bank fraud, money laundering, interstate fraud and making false statements to the government. There was no mention of any terrorism charges in the initial indictment.
Money laundering, bank fraud charges
He pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering and one count of bank fraud and to an additional count of conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization.
Prosecutors said Ouazzani, who became a permanent U.S. resident in July 2004 and became a citizen about two years later, provided false information to obtain a $175,000 line of credit commercial loan in April 2007 to run his business, Truman Used Auto Parts.
In May 2007, he wired $112,830 of the loan to a bank account in the United Arab Emirates, where it was used to purchase an apartment. In June or July 2008, he sold the apartment for a $17,000 profit, which was sent by a co-conspirator to al-Qaida, court records say.
He also agreed in August 2007 to send al-Qaida an additional $6,500 through a co-conspirator, who paid the money on his behalf, and in November 2007, Ouazzani repaid the co-conspirator through a wire transfer to a bank account in the United Arab Emirates, court records show.
Phillips said the $6,500 came from the sale of his business. She declined to comment on the co-conspirator or say how long Ouazzani had been in Kansas City prior to his arrest.
Going back to the 1990s, public records indicate Ouazzani listed numerous addresses in Kansas City and St. Louis, as well as spots in Brooklyn, N.Y., Forest Hills, N.Y., and Cherry Hill, N.J. It was not clear Wednesday how much time, if any, Ouazzani spent in those cities.
Dennis Hogan, who rented a salvage yard building to Ouazzini for his auto parts business, said Ouazzini owes him about $17,000 in back rent.
"I'm shocked and stunned but I'm not surprised because he was such a low-life," Hogan told The Associated Press. "Once he got in, he stopped paying his bills almost immediately."
Are you a terrorist?
Hogan said it was always a hassle to deal with Ouazzini and that other creditors in the Kansas City area were looking for him.
Hogan said that when he first met Ouazzini, he asked him if he was a terrorist, then immediately regretted the question.
"He looked at me and seemed real taken aback, and he said, 'Are you?'" Hogan said.
Ouazzani's attorneys said their client was sorry for his actions and he was ready to pay the consequences.
Ouazzani has "acknowledged the wrongfulness of his acts," Overland Park, Kan., attorneys Robin Fowler and Tricia Tenpenny said in a statement.
"He deeply regrets what he has done, and is taking steps to atone, to the extent he can, for his crimes. He will continue to do so," the statement read. They declined to provide further details.
Ouazzani faces up to 65 years in prison without parole, prosecutors said. No sentencing date has been set.