Federal officials announced Tuesday that two Iraqi nationals have been arrested in Bowling Green, Kentucky on charges that they conspired to provide weapons and money to al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). Waad Ramadan Alwan and Muhamad Shareef Hammadi have entered not guilty pleas and are being held, pending a pretrial detention hearing.
In a 23 count indictment handed down last week, Alwan was accused of conspiring to kill US nationals abroad, distributing information on the manufacture and use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Iraq and plotting to transfer Stinger missiles to AQI’s Sunni insurgency. His fellow defendant, Hammadi, is charged with attempting to provide material support to AQI and conspiring to transfer Stinger missiles to Iraq.
Both Alwan and Hammadi arrived to the United States from Iraq in 2009, having been granted refugee status through the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). An anonymous official with the agency blamed specific gaps in the screening process that allowed to hostile Iraqis to enter the country with amnesty. Until 2009, those seeking refugee status were matched against a limited array of screening databases. DHS and the State Department have since imposed a more rigorous applicant review process.
James Robinson, executive director of the International Center in Bowling Green, said that his organization has helped some 250 Iraqi refugees in Bowling Green since 2008.
However, it did not take long for Alwan to arouse the suspicions of federal authorities. The FBI began investigating the Iraqi national five months after his appeal for refugee status was approved. Within the year, a confidential informant was engaged in recording their conversations. The investigation into Hammadi began in January of 2011, when he was recruited by Alwan to help in the efforts.
According to court documents, Alwan admitted, on tape, that from 2003 until 2006 he had fought as an insurgent in Iraq, using IEDs and a sniper rifle to target US forces. Investigators uncovered his fingerprints on an undetonated IED that was recovered in Bayji, where Alwan lived and worked.
Officials from the FBI report that Alwan was ready to assist their confidential source, who claimed to provide support to AQI in the form of cash, guns, C-4 plastic explosives and Stinger missile systems. The informant told Alwan that he was funded by a shadowy, if fictional, figure known as the Hajji who received funding from Osama bin Laden. Their task was to move weapons and money from Bowling Green to Franklin, Kentucky where the supplies would be sent to Iraq. Unaware that the weapons were made inoperable by the FBI, Alwan received three rocket-propelled grenade launchers which he transported to the FBI source.
In addition to assistance from Bowling Green police, immigration services and the Defense Department, a Lexington-based anti-terrorism task force comprised of local police and policemen from the University of Kentucky also assisted in the investigation.
No weapons or money reached Iraq, and no domestic sites were ever targeted.
A hearing on their case is scheduled for June 8, 2011.