WASHINGTON, Feb. 21 (UPI) -- Congressional Republicans have pledged to give to charity $15,000 donated by a New York businessman indicted last week for terrorism financing, money laundering and fraud if he is convicted.
Abdul Tawala Ibn Ali Alishtari was arrested Thursday and charged in a five count indictment unsealed Friday with accepting payment to secretly transfer $152,000 "that he believed (was) being sent to Pakistan and Afghanistan to be used to support a terrorist training camp ... by, among other things, funding the purchase of equipment such as night-vision goggles."
Alishtari faces money-laundering, terror finance and material support of terrorism charges for his part in the plot hatched last year, which also involved others, known and unknown, according to the indictment.
He also faces fraud and wiretap charges for allegedly running a six-year fraud scheme in which he and his associates stole millions of dollars from investors through a fake loan investment program he called the "Flat Electronic Data Interchange" -- purportedly a high-yield investment plan.
If convicted, the 53 year-old Alishtari, who was also known as Michael Mixon, faces up to 95 years in jail.
He pled not guilty to the charges in U.S. District Court in Manhattan Friday, which ordered him detained.
Attempts to reach his lawyer this week were unsuccessful.
Monday, ABC News blog The Blotter revealed that Alishtari gave more than $15,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee, or NRCC, between April 2002 and August 2004, according to Federal Elections Commission figures compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.
Democrats were quick to seize on the issue, calling Tuesday on the GOP to "immediately come clean," in a statement from Jennifer Crider, Communications Director at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
"Did Alishtari receive special access to Republican leaders and members (of Congress)" in return for his donations? asked Crider. "Which Republican candidates has the NRCC supported with Alishtari's money? Has the NRCC returned Alishtari's contributions?"
In a response e-mailed to reporters, Jessica Boulanger, NRCC Communications Director, said the GOP was "extremely concerned and disturbed by these charges but we need to be careful not to rush to judgment as the judicial process moves forward."
If Alishtari was found guilty of a crime, she concluded, "it is our intent to donate the money to charity."
One analyst said Alishtari did not fit the classic profile of an Islamic extremist. "He has had a public persona which belies any long-standing commitment to jihad," wrote Andrew Cochran on the Counter-Terrorism Blog, noting he had "distributed poetry on Web sites ... on subjects as varied as the dreams and desires of wives and the differences between strains of Islam," and had launched a "Global Peace Film Festival."
"It will be interesting to see what might have motivated him towards the alleged terrorist funding scheme," concluded Cochran.
According to another expert quoted on the blog, one possibility was suggested by some of the language of the charges.
"The indictment states that Alishtari 'attempted' to send funds and 'believed' he was funding a terrorist training camp -- language that could have come straight out of a standard (money) laundering sting op," wrote Brett Wolf, anti-money laundering consultant and writer, on the blog.
"Although the U.S. attorney has not publicly said so, this indictment smells like the product of an FBI sting operation, a possibility made more likely by Alishtari's political background," he wrote, adding that he believed "at first glance" that the statutes under which Alishtari is charged "contain sting provisions."
A federal official unfamiliar with the details of the case said the use of night-vision goggles was also suggestive.
"That's classic," the official told United Press International, explaining that, although in the eyes of the law, military equipment like that was no different than weapons when supplied to terrorist groups, investigators sometimes use such non-lethal equipment to avoid panicking a target who might blanch at buying actual guns.
Federal prosecutors and the FBI declined to comment, saying the investigation was ongoing.