But appearing in court, Uzair Paracha, a Pakistani national with permanent resident status in the United States, protested his innocence.

Twenty-three old Paracha, who has been held as a material witness since his secret arrest in New York in late March,  has been charged with conspiring to help a member of al-Qaida enter the United States illegally.

If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison and a maximum fine of 250,000 US dollars.

Paracha’s attorney, Anthony Ricco said his client was innocent of all charges.

“The charges are complicated and the scheme is very complicated — well beyond the scope of Uzair Paracha,” Ricco said.

Paracha’s lawyer said his client was being unfairly charged. He may have known the unidentified person, suspected to belong to al-Qaida, but that by itself did not amount to any breach of laws.

"The charges are complicated and the scheme is very complicated - well beyond the scope of Uzair Paracha"

Paracha's Attorney

The FBI has refused to disclose the name of the al-Qaida suspect that Paracha was reportedly seeking to smuggle in.

Paracha’s lawyer said his client was being unfairly charged. He may have known the unidentified person, suspected to belong to al-Qaida, but that by itself did not amount to any breach of laws.

But the US administration claimed it had snuffed out a terrorist plot.

“This case demonstrates that al-Qaida will go to great lengths to enlist support here in the United States,” Attorney General John Ashcroft said in a statement.

“Our efforts are focused on identifying and dismantling those rings of support on which our terrorist enemies seek to rely,” he added.