Seven plead guilty to raising funds at LAX for terrorist organization [Updated]
Members of a group that for the last few years has sought donations from travelers at LAX on behalf of what they said was an Iraqi-based charity pleaded guilty Wednesday to federal charges of providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization.
In a plea agreement that came just as a jury was being selected for trial, the seven defendants each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization and one count of actually providing material support to the group.
In court the defendants admitted that they knowingly raised funds to support the activities of the Mujahedin-e Khalq, or MEK, by collecting money from MEK supporters and soliciting money from unwitting donors at public locations, including the airport. Donors were told they were supporting a charity called the Committee for Human Rights, which was sometimes referred to as the Committee for Human Rights in Iran.
However, the Justice Department charged that CHR was simply a “front organization” to support MEK operations, including its terrorist activities.
The fundraising activities took place from late 1997 to February 2001, authorities said. The group had established nonprofit status and set up bank accounts from which itwired money to the MEK.
“These defendants raised money at locations like LAX on behalf of the MEK, which is a terrorist organization,” U.S. Atty. Thomas P. O’Brien said. “We cannot allow any terrorist organization to fundraise on our shores or to steal money from our own citizens so that they can finance their own terrorism operations. Terrorism anywhere poses a significant security risk to the United States.”
[Updated at 10 p.m.: But Ahilan Arulanantham, an attorney for one of the defendants said the money went for humanitarian purposes, purchasing shoes, for example, and the group supported the U.S. military’s operations in Iraq. The MEK has also been removed from the United Kingdom’s list of terrorist organizations.
The 8-year-old case was originally dismissed, and Wednesday’s agreement is conditional, giving the defendants the right to appeal.]
The seven defendants are: Roya Rahmani, 48, of Vienna, Va.; Alireza Mohammadmoradi, 38, of Los Angeles; Moustafa Ahmady, 54, of Los Angeles; Hossein Kalani Afshari, 52, of Mission Viejo; Hassan Rezaie, 54, of Los Angeles; Navid Taj, 58, of Santa Monica and Mohammad Omidvar, 54, of Corona.
The defendants face a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison. Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 10.
[Updated at 10 p.m.: Over the years, the MEK has carried out bombings, assassinations and cross-border attacks aimed at unseating Iran’s government, and was provided sanctuary safe harbor in Iraq by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
The group contends that it has since abandoned violence and is working to promote democratic transition. Ironically, U.S. troops in Iraq were once given the task of protecting an MEK base there.]
-- Julie Cart