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Two Britons plead guilty to U.S. terrorism-related charges

By Richard Weizel

NEW HAVEN, Connecticut (Reuters) - Two British nationals who ran a website that U.S. authorities charged raised money and solicited equipment donations for al Qaeda and the Taliban pleaded guilty in a U.S. court on Tuesday to charges of providing material support for terrorists.

The men, Babar Ahmad and Syed Talha Ahsan, each said in U.S. District Court in New Haven, Connecticut, that he was guilty of two counts of providing support to terrorists for running the site, which raised funds for Muslim militants in Afghanistan and Chechnya.

"By assisting Mr. Ahmad, Mr. Ahsan assisted the solicitation of, and conspired to provide, funds for the Taliban regime in Afghanistan," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Reynolds at the hearing where Ahsan changed his plea from not guilty.

At an earlier hearing where Ahmad changed his plea, Reynolds said the man created and operated websites "that included plans that had the potential for murder, kidnapping and maiming and harm against a U.S. national while outside the United States."

Ahmad faces the possibility of up to 25 years in prison and two to five years' probation. Ahsan faces up to 15 years and up to five years' probation. Each could be fined up to $500,000.

The pair did not plead guilty to additional charges of conspiracy to injure the property of a foreign government and Ahmad did not plead guilty to a charge of money laundering.

Reynolds said the pair sought the donation of "military suits and gas masks for the Taliban regime," and obtained documents that traced the movements of a U.S. Navy vessel.

He said the former Azzam.com website incited "Muslims around the world to support, donate money to and take part in activities of terrorism in the fight for the Taliban and against the government of Afghanistan."

Each man appeared dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit, and provided brief answers to questions from U.S. District Judge Janet Hall, who said she would review their plea offers and set sentencing for March 4.

Each told the judge that he would request to serve his sentence in the United Kingdom, and Hall said she would refer their requests to appropriate officials.

The two were among five men extradited to the United States from Britain last year to face terrorism-related charges. The group also included one-eyed radical Islamist cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri on charges related to a 1998 hostage-taking in Yemen.

(Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Steve Orlofsky, Nick Zieminski and Alden Bentley)

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