While the men are charged with providing material support for terrorism, in court papers prosecutors said the men were planning a "crime of terrorism against the United States, US citizens and residents of the US." But officials stress there was no active plot targeting New York or any other U.S. city at this time.
Wesam El-Hanafi of Bath Beach, and Sabirhan Hasanoff provided "material support or resources" to Al Qaeda, according to an indictment unsealed today. The two men agreed to provide "computer advice and assistance, services and currency" to Al Qaeda. El-Hanafi is also accused of accepting $50,000 from a contact overseas.
Read the full indictment here.
Officials describe El-Hanafi as a "computer whiz" who allegedly was using his technical skills to try to help al Qaeda supporters communicate without being detected.
At the Bath Beach home he grew up in, El-Hanafi's brother said he couldn't believe the charges against the former Baruch College and Lafayette High School student.
"They were wonderful people," said one neighbor, who didn't want to be named. The former friend said El-Hanafi "seemed to be an assimilated kind of guy" but recently started growing a long beard. El-Hanafi, an Egyptian national, recently moved to Dubai.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said El-Hanafi "conspired to modernize al Qaeda by providing computer systems expertise and other goods and services."
One official said while the two men had been looking to help al Qaeda operatives overseas, terror leaders in Yemen were becoming hopeful they might soon convince the men to try to help in a future plot inside the United States.
NBC's Pete Williams and Jonathan Dienst first broke the news of the arrests. Investigators said the two men had been working to help al Qaeda from 2007 through March 2010. These latest terror related-arrests come just months after the FBI and NYPD arrested three men in the so-called Zazi subway terror plot.
El-Hanafi allegedly traveled to Yemen in February of 2008 where he received training from the terrorists and took an oath of allegiance to Al Qaeda. El-Hanafi later accepted an Al Qaeda oath of allegiance from a Brooklyn man, named as an unindicted co-conspirator.
In April of the next year, El-Hanafi purchased seven Casio watches -- seemingly harmless devices that have in the past been used by terrorists as timers for bombs.
NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly said,"The cases nexus to New York City serves as another reminder that we remain vigilant to the possibility of supporters of al Qaeda returning to New York."
El-Hanafi's attorney Victor Knapp said his client was in Dubai with his wife and three children for months. When they tried to return to the U.S. his client found out he had been placed on a no fly list. U.S. authorities then revoked his passport. Dubai officials then had him deported to the U.S. Upon arrival in Washington D.C., El-Hanafi was arrested, Knapp said.
One source said both men hold citizenship from the United States and another country. The men appeared in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia friday afternoon where a judge ordered them sent to New York for trial.
WNBC's Jonathan Dienst is the chief investigative reporter for the station.
WNBC Jonathan Dienst