The Ohio truck driver who admitted working with al Qaeda is revealing key information to authorities, but the prosecutor in the case warned today that the arrest shows the threat of terrorist attacks on American soil still exists.
"It is a very chilling and disturbing reminder to us that such individuals do exist," Paul McNulty, the U.S. attorney who led the prosecution against Iyman Faris, told Good Morning America.
Attorney General John Ashcroft announced Thursday that Faris, a U.S. citizen, had pleaded guilty to two counts of providing material support to terrorists. The charges stemmed from a variety of plots against U.S. targets, including the Brooklyn Bridge.
Faris admitted living a "secret double life," Ashcroft said. Although he appeared to be a normal, hardworking truck driver to his associates and neighbors, he was also an al Qaeda operative who met with Osama bin Laden and helped plot new attacks in the United States.
"To put it simple, he was helping al Qaeda in its attack, in its mission against the United States. Specifically, he was scouting a target," said McNulty.
As part of the plea agreement, Faris, 34, agreed to cooperate with authorities — and so far he is. Sources told ABCNEWS that Faris is naming other associates. He is expected to be sentenced on August 1, and could face 20 years in prison and up to $500,000 in fines.
As an independent truck driver, Faris had access to airports, and sources said he was licensed to haul hazardous materials. Authorities are trying to determine how extensive his support network in the United States network may have been.
"So now we want to find out: What did he touch? Who did he meet? Where did he go?" said former FBI Agent Jack Cloonan, an ABCNEWS consultant.
‘Never Suspected a Thing’
Faris, who was born in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, originally came to the United States in May 1994 and became a U.S. citizen in December 1999. His neighbors in Columbus, Ohio, were shocked to learn he was a terrorist operative.
"[I] never suspected a thing," said Larry Conners, who lived two doors down from Faris. "He looked all right to me, but being a truck driver, it … in the neighborhood, you wouldn't have any idea."
Negra Ross said neighbors sometimes complained about the noise that came from Faris' home. She said he didn't mix much with people in the area. "He was fairly standoffish and wasn't necessarily friendly."
Still, she said, his admitted involvement in terrorism was shocking.
"Even though this is a state capital, you never think that things like this could happen in Ohio — Columbus, Ohio, of all places."
Direct Orders From Al Qaeda’s High Ranks
Faris' case is being dealt with by the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., just outside Washington where other terrorism cases, including the charges against "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh and alleged 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, were taken.
In recent years, officials said, Faris had visited an al Qaeda terror training camp in Afghanistan, met personally with bin Laden, and assisted the terrorist network with several plans and plots.
Faris' original contact with al Qaeda came through one of its senior operatives. The government says Faris had known the operative since the Soviet-Afghanistan war in the 1980s.
Faris was working closely with the terror network's No. 3 commander, officials say.