NEW YORK -- In the days before their arrest on terrorism charges, two American citizens swore an oath of loyalty to Al Qaeda as they conspired to use their skills in martial arts and medicine to aid international terrorism, prosecutors said yesterday.
The two suspected Al Qaeda loyalists were ordered held without bail as they appeared in federal courtrooms in New York and Florida.
Tarik Shah, 42, of New York, waved and smiled at supporters and appeared relaxed at his preliminary hearing in US District Court in Manhattan before Magistrate Judge Theodore Katz.
In Fort Pierce, Fla., Dr. Rafiq Abdus Sabir, 50, of Boca Raton, Fla., told US District Judge James Hopkins that he had yet to hire a lawyer, and the judge set the next hearing in his case for Monday.
Neither defendant had entered a plea on the single charge against each of them, conspiring to provide material support to Al Qaeda. The government contends Shah planned to train jihadists, or Islamic holy warriors, in hand-to-hand combat techniques. Sabir allegedly was to treat their wounds at a military base in Saudi Arabia.
The men were arrested Friday after an FBI sting that the government said started in 2003. If convicted, each could face a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
A lawyer for Shah, Anthony Ricco, said outside court that the case was a ''desperate prosecution by our government."
He described Shah as a world-renowned jazz musician, a father, and a family man.
''They are prosecutions based upon religious beliefs," said Ricco, a veteran terrorism defense lawyer.
Sabir is an Ivy League-educated doctor, and Shah is a jazz musician and a self-described martial arts expert.
Melanie Dyre, who described herself as a fellow musician, described Shah as ''a beautiful person and a wonderful musician."
A spokesman for the Islamic Center of Boca Raton, Dan McBride, defended Sabir outside court in Florida as a man who traveled between the United States and Saudi Arabia to earn enough money to support his wife and their two sons.
''He has no money," McBride said. ''He works over there, then comes back and lives over here."
The complaint unsealed Monday described Shah's zeal to train ''brothers" for urban warfare. It alleged both men pledged their allegiance to Al Qaeda during a May 20 meeting in the Bronx.
Shah went with an informant to a Long Island warehouse to see if it would be adequate as a training site, unaware FBI agents were videotaping the visit, the papers said. He also discussed a desire to open a machine shop to make weapons, the complaint said.
''Shah indicated that his 'greatest cover has been' his career as a 'professional' jazz musician," FBI agent Brian Murphy wrote in the complaint.
At one point, the informant told Shah he was going to take him to Plattsburgh, N.Y., to introduce him to a recruiter from the Middle East, who actually was an undercover FBI agent, the complaint said.
Murphy said Shah was eager to introduce Sabir -- a ''very, very, very close friend" he had known for more than 20 years -- to the recruiter.