SANTA ANA, Calif. -- A Tustin man accused of failing to reveal family ties to terrorist organizations when he applied for U.S. citizenship was ordered detained in federal custody Friday pending a bail hearing and arraignment next week.
Ahmadullah Sais Niazi, 34, was taken into custody by agents of the Orange County Joint Terrorism Task Force about 7 a.m. at his home at 13121 Charloma Drive, and appeared before U.S. Magistrate Arthur Nakazato in a Santa Ana courtroom Friday afternoon.
During that hearing, Niazi was advised that the attorney who had been representing him would not appear until he could resolve if he had a conflict of interest -- whose nature was not disclosed -- prompting a dialogue between Nakazato and Niazi.
"He knows everything about this case ... what is really happening," Niazi said. "I need justice in this case."
After insisting that he be allowed to speak to the attorney by telephone, Niazi accepted representation by Deputy Federal Public Defender Chase Scolnick.
Later, when Nakazato asked him if he understood the charges in the indictment, Niazi said, "I just read it and it's really confusing. Some I do understand, some is really complicated."
Scolnick later told reporters that he will ask for bail Tuesday, but he could not address the allegations.
"I really don't know anything about the case at this point," Scolnick said.
Niazi's wife, Jamilah Romlas Amin, attended the hearing, but declined to comment.
The five-count indictment accuses Niazi of lying on his naturalization application, procuring naturalization unlawfully, using a passport procured by fraud and making a false statement.
According to an affidavit for a search warrant, Niazi, who was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, failed to reveal that his sister is married to Amin al-Haq, who has allegedly served as a bodyguard for al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
Al-Haq was designated as a specially designated global terrorist by the U.S. Treasury Office of Foreign Asset Control following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
That designation froze all of al-Haq's assets in the United States, according to the affidavit.
Around March 8, 2001, the United Nations Security Council declared that al-Haq is associated with al-Qaida and bin Laden, according to the indictment.
A search warrant unsealed Friday afternoon alleges that Niazi and his wife, according to documents seized, used a "hawala," an unlicensed money transfer system often used by people from Afghanistan and Pakistan to transfer money from one country to another.
That system can be used legitimately, but is also exploited by those seeking to avoid U.S. regulations applied to financial remittance systems, according to the search warrant.
Receipts dated from 1999 through 2006 document the use of hawalas on at least 57 occasions and the transfer of about $16,400 in cash, according to the search warrant.
Niazi is not charged in connection with money transfers in the indictment, but the investigation continues, Assistant U.S. Attorney Deirdre Z. Eliot said.
According to the charges in the indictment, Niazi declared, on Feb. 24, 2004 on his naturalization application that he had never used an alias and had no ties to terrorists, even though he had used the name Ahmadullah Khan.
Niazi, according to a second perjury count, declared around October 2004 that he had not traveled outside the United State since Feb. 24, 2004, but that he went to Pakistan for two weeks in May 2004.
The indictment also alleges that on Feb. 19, 2005, upon his return from foreign travel, Niazi said he had traveled to Qatar to visit his family, when in fact, Niazi knew he had traveled to Pakistan to visit family, including al-Haq, the indictment states.
If convicted of all charges, Niazi faces up to 35 years in prison, said Thom Mrozek of the U.S. Attorney's Office.