Briton convicted of trying to sell arms to terrorist group

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The Independent US

A former clothes merchant from Britain has been convicted of trying to sell shoulder-launched missiles to what he believed was a terrorist group planning to use the weapons to shoot down airliners.

A former clothes merchant from Britain has been convicted of trying to sell shoulder-launched missiles to what he believed was a terrorist group planning to use the weapons to shoot down airliners.

On its second day of deliberations, the jury in Newark, New Jersey, found Hemant Lakhani guilty of five charges including attempting to provide material support to terrorists. The 69-year-old is due to be sentenced in August.

Lakhani was arrested in a hotel room near Newark Liberty international airport on 12 August 2003 after a sting operation organised by the FBI in which an informant posed as would-be terrorist seeking to buy arms. In addition to trying to provide aid to terrorists, Lakhani, who was born in India but has lived for 45 years in the UK, was found guilty of unlawful arms sales, smuggling and money laundering. He faces 25 years in jail.

Christopher Christie, the lead prosecution lawyer, described the verdict as "a triumph for the Justice Department in the war against terror".

But Lakhani's lawyer said his client was the victim of an entrapment that had been two years in the planning. Closing his defence last week Henry Klingeman, told the jury: "There was no missile plot until the government created it."

The court heard that in 2001 Lakhani went to Dubai looking for backers for a $250m (£125m) deal on an Indian oil-refinery project. There, a contact encouraged him to speak to a rich friend who might be able to help. That friend turned out to be an FBI informant, Mohammed Habib Rehman. After a brief telephone conversation Mr Rehman said he represented a rebel Somali group and was interested in shoulder-fired missiles. Lakhani, who had previously legally sold weapons to the Angolan government, agreed to help.

Lakhani was contacted by a man who is believed to have been working for Russian intelligence who offered to supply the arms. Lakhani passed on this infomation to Rehman and the pair met at the airport hotel where Rehman said his plan was to use the missiles on the anniversary of the 11 September attacks. Moments later agents smashed their way into the room and arrested Lakhani.

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