LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- Two Iraqi men living as refugees in Kentucky tried to send sniper rifles, Stinger missiles and money to al-Qaida operatives in their home country, and both boasted of using improvised explosives against American troops there before moving to the U.S., according to court documents unsealed Tuesday.
Thirty-year-old Waad Ramadan Alwan and 23-year-old Mohanad Shareef Hammadi, both of Bowling Green, were arrested last week after an investigation that began months after they arrived in the U.S. in 2009. Neither is charged with plotting attacks within the United States, and authorities said their weapons and money didn't make it to Iraq because of a tightly controlled undercover investigation.
Alwan is charged with conspiracy to kill a United States national, conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and attempting to provide material support to terrorists. Hammadi is charged with attempting to provide material support to terrorists and knowingly transferring, possession or exporting a device designed or intended to launch or guide a rocket or missile.
The FBI said in an affidavit that Alwan told an informant that he took part in insurgent attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq using both improvised explosive devices and a sniper rifle, saying "lunch and dinner would be an American." Court documents say Hammadi also told an informant he planted improvised explosives in Iraq.
The men pleaded not guilty to the charges during a preliminary hearing Tuesday, and they're in federal custody pending a detention hearing.
The criminal complaints against the two men say they entered the United States legally in April 2009 and had refugee status. By late 2010, Alwan had told the informant he wanted to help terrorists in Iraq, and he recruited Hammadi early this year, authorities said. They are accused of trying to send the rifles, missiles and C4 plastic explosives to Iraq.
Federal prosecutors and the FBI declined to say how the two men were able to enter the country as refugees, or what they were doing in Bowling Green, a city of 60,000. State officials said at least 253 Iraqi refugees have moved to the city since 2008 but wouldn't comment on whether the state's refugee office dealt with the suspects.
"Perhaps they just thought it was a lovely community," said FBI Special Agent in Charge Elizabeth Fries, who declined to say what the men did for a living.
A Department of Homeland Security official, who requested anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, said Alwan and Hammadi slipped through gaps in the immigration vetting system that have since been filled. The official said the agency now checks people repeatedly as new information becomes available.
Their arrests come after FBI Director Robert Mueller said in February that his agency was taking a fresh look at Iraqi nationals in the U.S. who had ties to al-Qaida's offshoot in Iraq. The group had not previously been considered a threat in the U.S.
Hammadi's court-appointed attorney, James Earhart of Louisville, said he doesn't know much about the case beyond what's in the criminal complaint.
"I haven't had a chance to sit down and talk with him yet," he said.
Federal Public Defender Scott Wendelsdorf, who represents Alwan, declined comment.
No one answered the door Tuesday afternoon when a reporter went to Alwan's and Hammadi's listed addresses in Bowling Green.
Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the government is trying to find out more about Alwan and Hammadi but currently has no information.
Court documents say the probe of Alwan began in September 2009, five months after he'd come to the U.S. Late the next year, authorities started using an informant to record conversations with him.
According to the criminal complaints, Alwan told the informant he was involved in insurgent attacks in Iraq from 2003 until 2006. The FBI said Alwan drew diagrams of four types of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, for the informant.
In January, investigators identified fingerprints belonging to Alwan on a component of an unexploded IED that was recovered by U.S. forces in Iraq in 2005, the FBI said.
The informant told Alwan that he worked for groups that received money from Osama bin Laden and was planning to send money and weapons to Iraq in secret compartments on cars.
The criminal complaints say that in January, Alwan recruited Hammadi to assist him, describing the younger Iraqi to the informant as a relative whose work as an insurgent was well known. Later that month, Alwan and Hammadi allegedly delivered money to a tractor-trailer, believing the money would ultimately be shipped to al-Qaida in Iraq. They later helped delivered weapons that included two Stinger missiles, authorities say.
"In reality, these weapons and money never made it outside of Kentucky," Fries said.
Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear said state officials have known about the investigation for several weeks, but declined further comment.