US cuts deal with taxi-driver terrorist

February 6, 2012 4:16:16 PM PST
A Pakistani-born Chicago cabbie, who once discussed blowing up a sports stadium, according to investigators, will do a shorter prison sentence after pleading guilty to attempting to fund al-Qaeda.

Under the terms of his plea bargain, North Sider Raja Lahrasib Khan will serve five to eight years and fully cooperate with prosecutors in other potential terrorism cases. The 58-year old Khan would have faced 15 years without a pledge of cooperation and risked a sentence of 30 years to life if convicted at trial.

Khan's attorney Thomas Durkin, who worked out the terms of the plea agreement, said that it was too good a deal to pass up. Durkin said that Khan would have had difficulty achieving a fair trial because "jurors only have to hear the name 'al Qaeda'."

Under the terms of the plea, Khan's sentence could be further reduced if his cooperation merits.

The I-Team first reported in December that Khan and the government were headed toward a plea agreement. He was charged nearly two years ago with helping fund al-Qaida by funneling money to Ilyas Kashmiri, a top Pakistani terrorist leader. Among the plots discussed was a bomb attack on an unnamed U.S. sports stadium, according to authorities.

Khan admits having twice met Kashmiri and does not dispute the evidence, according to attorney Durkin.

Since Khan's arrest and detainment without bond, Mr. Kashmiri's terrorist stock rose. He was considered a key player in al-Qaida's leadership lineup since the killing of Osama bin Laden by American forces last year.

Kashmiri himself is currently under federal indictment in Chicago and a fugitive from justice. Authorities have charged him with overseeing the deadly attack on Mumbai, India, in 2008 and working closely with Pakistan's official spy agency known as the ISI. Other suspected terrorists with connections to the Pakistan regime have also been indicted here.

There were unconfirmed reports that Kashmiri was killed last June in an American drone strike. He is still named in a Chicago criminal indictment.

Mr. Khan's plea agreement means the government will not have to divulge any sensitive foreign intelligence or evidence in because a trial will no longer be necessary.

Khan became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1988 but visited Pakistan annually, said his attorney.

Federal authorities, who frequently tout such plea agreements as cost-saving methods of serving the ends of justice, did not comment after today's court hearing. They declined to answer questions as to the motivation for the deal or their recommendation that Mr. Khan serve a comparatively mild prison sentence.

When Khan was arrested, Robert Grant, Chicago's Special Agent in Charge of the FBI, spoke of the suspect in the context of major terror cases that the bureau had cracked. "Over the past six months, FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Forces across the country have disrupted plots, charged and apprehended a number of individuals and secured significant intelligence, which has been of benefit here and to our allies overseas" said Grant.

Two weeks prior to Khan's arrest, the cabbie and an associate allegedly had a discussion during which they appeared to talk about attacking a stadium in the United States in "August." According to counter-terror investigators, Khan described that bags containing remote controlled bombs could be placed in several different locations, and then "boom, boom, boom, boom."