A Shiite imam accused of plotting to blow up fuel tanks at John F. Kennedy International Airport wanted to seek Iranian backing for the terrorist plot.
The disclosure came yesterday in a court decision denying bail to the Trinidadian-based cleric, Kareem Ibrahim.
Mr. Ibrahim, 62, is one of four men arrested last month on charges connected to the plot. At the time, American law enforcement officials said Mr. Ibrahim encouraged his co-conspirators to seek funding for the attack from outside their home countries of Trinidad or Guyana. While American authorities have not provided more details, a judge in Trinidad wrote that evidence, including tape recordings, suggests Mr. Ibrahim intended to seek backing for the plot from individuals in Iran or Britain.
In those recordings, Judge Prakash Moosai wrote, Mr. Ibrahim "refers to an ‘Iranian brother' passing through Trinidad and Tobago, and of sending a ‘trusted brother' to Iran to speak to the top men of the revolutionary movement there about the plan." The judge's decision does not clarify whether "the revolutionary movement there" refers to the government of the Islamic Republic. Nor does Judge Moosai state whether the plotters actually disclosed the plan to contacts in Iran or simply considered doing so. Mr. Ibrahim also spoke of contacting "brothers in England," the decision said.
Mr. Ibrahim's alleged efforts to find foreign backing mark the second Iran connection to surface in a case that initially appeared confined to the Western Hemisphere. At the time of his arrest, another of the defendants, Abdul Kadir of Guyana, was preparing to travel to Iran to attend an Islamic conference, according to news reports. Two of Mr. Kadir's children were studying in Iran at the time of his arrest, according to reports.
The extent of Mr. Ibrahim's own international contacts is unclear. He has not left Trinidad since 1979, according to the court decision. But one lead under investigation by Trinidadian law enforcement is whether Mr. Ibrahim had ties to Shiite organizations in southern Iraq and Iran through an Islamic discussion group he hosted, the Trinidad Express reported last month.
Both Mr. Kadir, a former legislator and mayor in Guyana, and Mr. Ibrahim are relatively prominent men. Mr. Ibrahim, in addition to being an imam to two congregations, is an official in a popular national political party, Congress of the People. He also plays the steel pan for a group, the Sforzata Steel Orchestra, which toured America in the 1970s, the decision said.
Messrs. Kadir and Ibrahim, as well as a third defendant, Abdel Nur, all remain in custody in Trinidad. Only Mr. Ibrahim presented a bail package.
A fourth defendant, Russell Defreitas, had been laid off at JFK as a cargo worker and lived in Brooklyn. Prosecutors say the plot was originally Mr. Defreitas's idea. He is scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn tomorrow.
Law enforcement officials have said the plot against the airport was never operational and that the conspirators never had explosives. But in denying bail to Mr. Ibrahim, Judge Moosai said American prosecutors have significant evidence that the conspirators intended to commit an act of terrorism.
"The case appears to me to be a strong case," Judge Moosai wrote.