By Steve Gorman
(Reuters) - A Syrian man accused of procuring and assembling American-made electronic parts for roadside bombs used in attacks on U.S. military forces in Iraq made his first U.S. court appearance on Thursday in Arizona and pleaded not guilty to federal criminal charges.
Ahmad Ibrahim Al-Ahmad, 36, was arrested in Turkey in 2011 on terrorism-related charges under an Interpol warrant and detained there until his extradition on Wednesday to the United States, the U.S. Justice Department said in a statement.
A superseding federal indictment returned earlier this month charged Al-Ahmad with various conspiracy offenses as well as possession of a destructive device and providing material support to terrorists. If convicted, he would face a maximum sentence of life in prison.
The six-count, seven-page indictment accuses Al Ahmad of designing and assembling parts for wireless detonators and circuit boards used in radio-controlled roadside bombs planted for attacks on American forces in Iraq.
According to the indictment, Al-Ahmad built the wireless systems in a house in Baghdad with components he procured from 2005 to 2010 from an unspecified company based in Arizona, hence his extradition to Phoenix.
The parts he assembled were supplied to an Iraqi insurgent group called the 1920 Revolution Brigades, the indictment said. It cited two specific improvised explosive device, or IED, blasts in the Baghdad area in 2007 that killed four U.S. soldiers and wounded four others.
Following his initial appearance before a federal judge in Phoenix, Al-Ahmad was placed in the custody of U.S. marshals pending his next court date on Sept. 8. A not guilty plea was entered, and a trial date was set for Oct. 7, 2014.
Officials for the Justice Department and U.S. Attorney's Office in Phoenix declined to provide further information about Al-Ahmad's background or his alleged ties to Arizona.
U.S. military forces first began discovering U.S.-made components inside IEDs on the Iraq and Afghanistan battlefields in 2004. At least two other cases have led to indictments. In a third case, also involving an Arizona company, the incriminating evidence was discovered too late to bring charges.
In 2008, 16 foreign individuals and corporations, mostly Dubai-based Iranians, were indicted by a federal grand jury in Miami for smuggling IED components to Iran.
Only one person, a low-level operative, was ever arrested. In 2011, four people in Singapore were indicted for smuggling similar components from a Minnesota company. Last year, two of them were each sentenced to about three years in prison.
(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by John Shiffman in Washington; Editing by Eric Walsh and Michael Perry)