Pakistani linked to N.Y. bomb is charged

US says he gave cash to man guilty in Times Sq. case

By Shelley Murphy
Globe Staff / November 17, 2010

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A Pakistani national was accused yesterday of delivering $4,900 to the would-be Times Square bomber during a brief meeting at his Watertown home months before the failed attack, but prosecutors do not allege that he knew of the terrorist plot.

A criminal complaint unsealed yesterday in US District Court charges Aftab Ali, also known as Aftab Ali Khan, 28, with immigration document fraud and making false statements. He came to the United States more than a year ago and overstayed his visa.

Ali is not charged with terrorism, but an affidavit filed in the case portrays him as an unwitting pawn who delivered cash to Faisal Shahzad, the convicted would-be bomber, on Feb. 25 while using an informal money-exchange network called a hawala to send money to his brother in Pakistan.

Under the system, Ali’s brother, Akhtar, who ran a money transfer business in Pakistan, directed him to deliver $4,900 to Shahzad, prosecutors allege. Then, someone in Pakistan allegedly delivered the same amount of cash to Ali’s brother. Ali borrowed the money from the manager of a Brookline gas station where he worked, the affidavit says.

Ali’s immigration lawyer said it was “a completely innocent exchange’’ and that Ali never met Shahzad before the meeting and was told by the person who arranged the money transfer that Shahzad was suffering from cancer and needed the money for treatment.

“He did not know what this man was going to do with the money,’’ said Saher J. Macarius, the Framingham lawyer who has represented Ali since he was arrested on civil immigration charges in May. “He gave him the money because he was told: ‘This man has cancer. He needs the money.’ ’’

Shahzad, a 30-year-old former financial analyst from Bridgeport, Conn., pleaded guilty in June in US District Court in Manhattan to trying to set off a car bomb in Times Square on May 1.

He admitted in court that after receiving bomb-making training from the Taliban in Pakistan, he returned to the United States in February with a plan to carry out terrorist attacks. But he said he quickly ran out of money and traveled to Massachusetts on Feb. 25 to collect $5,000 sent by an unidentified accomplice who worked for the Pakistani Taliban.

Macarius said Ali “has no clue’’ about any involvement by the Taliban and has cooperated fully with federal authorities since his arrest May 13.

Macarius said Ali and his brother both assisted the government in the investigation of the attempted bombing by providing information about the hawala transfer and the people involved in the exchange.

“He should have been given a medal for risking his life to help the government get more people arrested in Pakistan, but this is how the government rewarded him,’’ Macarius said.

The criminal charges against Ali, which were filed Nov. 4 and unsealed yesterday, come six months after Ali and his uncle were arrested on civil immigration charges during the dramatic raids at their Waverley Avenue apartment in Watertown and at the Brookline gas station where Ali worked. Investigators found Shahzad’s cellphone number on Ali’s cellphone during the raids, according to authorities.

His uncle, Pir D. Khan, 43, was released from jail in June and has returned to his job as a taxi driver. A third Pakistani man, Mohammad Shafiq ur Rahman, who was also arrested May 13 during a separate raid in Maine, has also been released.

Ali has been jailed in Boston and New York since his arrest six months ago. Yesterday, he appeared subdued as he was led into US District Court in Boston in shackles, dressed in jeans, sneakers, and a green T-shirt over a white thermal jersey.

US Magistrate Judge Leo Sorokin ordered Ali held without bail until a detention hearing on Friday. Assistant US Attorney William Weinreb argued there is a risk Ali would flee, noting that an immigration judge ordered him deported in May.

Miriam Conrad, the federal public defender who was appointed to represent Ali in the criminal case, told the magistrate that Ali speaks limited English and will need an Urdu translator for future court proceedings.

Ali worked at a US Army base in Kuwait as a civilian assisting with truck convoys and came to the United States in August 2009, with plans to marry an American soldier he met overseas. But she refused to marry him when he arrived at her home in Colorado. On Nov. 17, 2009, the day his visa expired, he married a Cambridge woman, Lila-Charlotte Fatou Sylla, who is a US citizen.

Prosecutors allege that when Ali was questioned during the May raid, he falsely told agents he was not married and also failed to disclose that Sylla had petitioned for him to remain in the country. Prosecutors also allege that Ali was working without a permit at the Brookline gas station, but told authorities he did not have a job.

An affidavit filed in court by a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent says that a close friend of Sylla’s told agents that the marriage “was purely a business arrangement’’ and Sylla married Ali for immigration purposes in exchange for financial support.

Sylla could not be reached yesterday, but in an interview with the Globe in May, she said a relative introduced her to Ali after he was jilted and she later agreed to marry him thinking “he was a really nice guy with potential for things to grow from it.’’

She said Khan gave her money for bills and other expenses, and gifts for special occasions, but nothing lavish.

Shelley Murphy can be reached at