NEW YORK — A Vietnamese man extradited to the United States from London last week pleaded not guilty Wednesday to supporting al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula in a case built partly on his interactions with two Americans who prosecutors say were once members of the organization.
Minh Quang Pham, 32, entered the plea in Manhattan federal court to charges that he provided material support to terrorists and underwent military-style training before using firearms.
Pham was arrested at Heathrow International Airport when he returned in July 2011 from a six-month trip to Yemen, where prosecutors say he pledged his support to high-level members of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and vowed to fight jihad. They say he told his wife before leaving their United Kingdom home that he was going to Ireland.
Defense attorney Steven Frankel said outside court his client never harmed anyone and never did things described in the indictment.
U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan did not immediately set a trial date, saying she wanted to wait until the government clarified whether there would be classified evidence in the case. She said she would set deadlines for pre-trial motions by attorneys at an April 9 conference.
In court papers, prosecutors said a cooperating witness described Pham's interactions with two Americans who joined al-Qaida and are now dead. They say Pham provided valuable assistance to an American who edited and published an English-language publication used by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula to distribute propaganda and recruit individuals from Western cultures to join the group.
Prosecutors said a second American wrote a feature article for the publication titled: "I Am Proud to be a Traitor to America."
The U.S. State Department designated al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula as a terrorist organization in January 2010 after it claimed responsibility for attempted terrorist attacks against the U.S., authorities said.
They said the group claimed responsibility in 2009 for an attempted Christmas Day bombing of a Detroit-bound passenger plane from Europe and later claimed responsibility for an October 2010 plot to send bomb-laden packages on U.S.-bound cargo planes.
If convicted, Pham could face a mandatory minimum of 40 years in prison and a maximum of life.