COLUMBUS — Government investigators are tightlipped about the possibility that they’ve identified more people involved in a terrorist cell investigation that has already yielded two convictions, but lawyers for the pair of men say they believe the cell may have contained up to 10 members.
“A lot more than three performed in their jihadist group,” said David Smith, a former attorney for Iyman Faris.
Faris, 38, was sentenced in 2003 to 20 years in prison for plotting with al-Qaida to topple the Brooklyn Bridge, and authorities said he held meetings with Christopher Paul and Nuradin Abdi, a Somali man the government says plotted to blow up an Ohio shopping mall.
Abdi, 35, pleaded guilty Tuesday in U.S. District Court to one count of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists and is expected to receive a 10-year sentence.
The third suspect, Paul, of Columbus, is accused of plotting to bomb European tourist resorts and U.S. military facilities and military bases overseas.
Though investigators haven’t publicly identified any other associates of the three, “I’m sure with the government they’re guilty by association,” said Mahir Sherif, Abdi’s lawyer.
A message was left seeking comment from Fred Alverson, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Columbus.
“I can’t understand why they haven’t been indicted already. I’m assuming it could be that it depends on Abdi’s cooperation,” Smith said. Several members of the group may have already left the United States.
Investigators aren’t likely to get help from Abdi since it was not a stipulation in his plea agreement, Sherif said.
Smith represented Faris during his appeals and said his former client indicated that meetings at parks and mosques were social gatherings and nothing more. The government disagrees.
Federal investigators have not said if they are pursuing cases against any associates of Faris, Abdi or Paul, but the government’s statement of facts following Abdi’s plea deal refers to an additional unnamed co-conspirator. The documents say the associate met with Paul in Pittsburgh on Sept. 11, 2002, to discuss attacking a U.S. military base in Qatar, then rode with Abdi from Pittsburgh to Columbus a few months later to meet again with Paul. The next day, Abdi took the co-conspirator to the Columbus airport.
Sherif believes that man may be cooperating with authorities but could be charged as a co-conspirator later.