Last week we had numerous posts on California, today it’s New York Muslims. via Accused Smokes Smuggler Charged in NY Murder Plot – ABC News.
Scheming to scuttle a major cigarette-smuggling case that spanned from Virginia to New York, an accused ringleader plotted behind bars to get witnesses killed, authorities said as they announced new charges against him.
While in New York City’s Rikers Island jail, Basel Ramadan gave an informant details in August about two people he believed were cooperating with authorities and he wanted dead, New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office said in unveiling the new charges Thursday.
Then Ramadan talked to an undercover officer posing as a hit man, according to the new indictment. Using a recorded jail phone, Ramadan explained that he had “one of those problems,” the indictment said.
Ramadan, 42, and accused accomplice Yousseff Odeh, 52, pleaded not guilty to conspiracy and criminal solicitation. Both also are fighting the cigarette-smuggling charges.
Lawyers for Ramadan suggested Friday that that the Ocean City, Md., businessman was just venting, not actually planning a murder for hire.
“What this is going to turn out to be is basically him ranting in frustration, and I don’t think he had any reason to truly plan to kill witnesses, in connection with a cigarette case, on a taped phone line,” attorney Marc Agnifilo said by phone.
Odeh’s lawyer, Andrew Ehrenpreis, declined to comment. The indictment says Odeh, an alleged distributor in the cigarette scheme, gave an informant descriptions of the witnesses targeted for killing.
“(Odeh and Ramadan) cheated New York taxpayers out of millions of dollars in tax revenue and then tried to cover up their dangerous and lucrative smuggling operations, which hurt New York businesses, by committing the ultimate crime,” Schneiderman said in a statement.
Ramadan, Odeh and 14 other Palestinian immigrants were charged this spring with working together to sell over a million cartons of untaxed cigarettes in New York, costing the state an estimated $80 million in revenues.
The suspects bought mass quantities of cigarettes from a Virginia wholesaler, hid the smokes in a public storage facility in Delaware, and had distributors funnel about 20,000 cartons a week to New York City markets upstate New York grocery stores, authorities said.
In announcing the arrests in May, Schneiderman and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly noted that similar schemes in the past have raised money for terrorist groups. Kelly said some members of the cigarette ring had alleged links to known terrorists.
No terror-related charges have been brought in this case.
More on the terror links via Blind Sheik Supporter Charged in Murder-for-Hire Plot :: The Investigative Project on Terrorism.
The Staten Island Advance reports that Odeh was a supporter of blind sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, the spiritual guide for the 1993 World Trade Center bombers who is serving a life sentence at the Supermax penitentiary in Colorado for his role in a subsequent conspiracy to bomb several New York landmarks.
Odeh also reportedly had close ties to Abdel Sattar, a key associate of the blind sheik. Sattar was convicted in 2005 for aiding Rahman in his efforts to direct terrorist activities from his cell in the United States.
Odeh and Ramadan were charged with 14 others last spring for their alleged involvement in a cigarette trafficking ring that laundered more than $55 million in illegal proceeds and evaded more than $80 million in New York taxes. Similar schemes in the past have helped fund terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hizballah.
The new indictment alleges that in August, Odeh and Ramadan gave someone “descriptive information” about people they expected to serve as witnesses against them, including their names and addresses. Ramadan then made a phone call from Rikers Island Sept. 17 seeking a contract killer. But his call went to an undercover police officer. Ramadan told the undercover officer that he has “one of those problems” and expressed his appreciation when the officer said he could “take care of it.”
Why not? It was previously reported that, Terrorists may get money from regional, cheap cigarette smuggling ring
All 16 of those charged are Palestinian and all but two were living illegally in the U.S. One managed to flee to Jordan before the arrests late Wednesday.
Kelly said the group included several “individuals on our radar with links to known terrorists,” starting with Mohannad Seif, 39, a cigarette reseller from Brooklyn.
Kelly said Seif lived in the same three-story walkup with the personal secretary of Hamas’ main fund-raiser in the U.S., Mousa Abu Marzouk, who was deported from the U.S. in 1997. Marzouk continues to raise money for Hamas in Egypt.
The NYPD also linked Muaffaq Askar, 46, a reseller in Brooklyn, to the Arab gunman who shot up a van full of yeshiva students on the Brooklyn Bridge in 1994. The gunman, Rashid Baz, killed 16-year-old passenger Ari Halberstam.
Previously: NYC: 15 ‘Palestinians’ arrested in cigarette-smuggling ring linked to Islamic militants
And not the first Muslims to plot killing witnesses in the U.S.: North Carolina: 3 Muslims sentenced in plot to behead terror witnesses
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