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FBI: Va. Men Planned Israel Attack

March 26, 2002

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Two Americans were denied entry to Israel in December, one of them carrying a letter the FBI believes indicated plans for a suicide attack, according to sworn court papers unsealed Tuesday.

The documents accuse one of the two men, Mohammed Osman Idris, 24, of Annandale, Va., of lying to a grand jury about his trip to Israel. He and his traveling companion, identified as Mohammed El-Yacoubi of Fairfax, Va., were stopped by authorities in New York while trying to fly to Jerusalem, the papers said.

``I can’t talk about the case. Sorry,″ said Idris when asked about it Tuesday. He is free on bond.

In the documents filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., the FBI said El-Yacoubi was carrying a four-page letter, written in Arabic, apparently from his younger brother, Abdalmuhssin El-Yacoubi, a student at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville.

The older El-Yacoubi, in a telephone interview, said he and his brother were held in jail six weeks in Alexandria as material witnesses until investigators were satisfied there was no plot and they had no terrorist ties.

``Everything’s been cleared up,″ El-Yacoubi said. ``It was all a big misunderstanding. Everything was explained. Once everything was cleared up, they let me go.″ El-Yacoubi’s brother could not immediately be reached for comment. All three are American citizens.

Idris and El-Yacoubi were carrying $2,000 in cash, a cellular telephone, a compass, calculator and video camera, the bureau said.

Although U.S. investigators allowed them to board the El Al flight after stopping them at JFK International Airport in New York on Dec. 13, authorities in Israel denied them entry, and they were subsequently forced to return to the United States.

The FBI affidavit, filed last week, quoted a passage from what it described as a suspicious letter: ``It is incumbent upon me to encourage you and help you, because Islam urges Jihad for the sake of Allah.″

``I believe that Abdalmuhssin drafted this extraordinary letter to his brother under these circumstances because, based on his conversations with Mohammed, he believed that his brother was about to engage in terrorist activity that he might not survive,″ wrote FBI Special Agent John V. Wyman.

El-Yacoubi said much of the FBI’s terrorism concerns stemmed from what he described as mistakes translating his brother’s letter. He said his brother’s reference to ``Jihad″ meant ``struggle,″ and the elder El-Yacoubi described the Sept. 11 attacks as ``evil acts.″

He said his confinement was an injustice committed by U.S. authorities against him because he is Muslim.

``They translated it in their own way,″ he said. ``They just blow everything out of proportion.″

His lawyer, Jefferson Gray of Washington, said El-Yacoubi has been cooperating with government prosecutors. ``My client has not been charged with any wrongdoing,″ Gray said. ``He had no criminal purpose in making his trip to Israel.″

Idris was the only person accused of a federal crime in connection with the incident. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Alexandria, Frank R. Schults, said he was released on bond.

The court documents indicate that a grand jury in northern Virginia was investigating whether Idris, Mohammed El-Yacoubi and others were providing or trying to provide support to Hamas or Islamic Jihad, which the U.S. considers terrorist organizations.

``Idris made numerous false statements under oath,″ Wyman said in his affidavit.

Wyman said he consulted with Arabic and Islamic experts who analyzed the letter at the FBI’s request.

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