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Nigerian pleads guilty to U.S. charges of aiding al Qaeda group

By Nate Raymond

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Nigerian citizen pleaded guilty on Tuesday to U.S. charges of providing material support to an al Qaeda affiliate, and participating in its media and recruitment campaigns.

Lawal Olaniyi Babafemi, 33, appearing before a federal judge in Brooklyn, New York, pleaded guilty to providing material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization.

The plea came ahead of a July 14 trial date and followed a Nigerian court's decision in August to grant a U.S. request for Babafemi's extradition.

Prosecutors said that, from January 2010 to August 2011, Babafemi traveled from Nigeria to Yemen twice to meet with leaders of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, known as AQAP.

"The defendant traveled to Yemen to put himself at the disposal of a violent terrorist organization that has repeatedly demonstrated its determination to inflict bodily and economic harm on the United States and its citizens," Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said in a statement.

The U.S. government said Babafemi worked on AQAP's media operations, including the publication of its magazine, called "Inspire."

The group's leadership, including Anwar al-Awlaki, paid Babafemi almost $9,000 to recruit English-speaking people from Nigeria, prosecutors said. Awlaki, a U.S. citizen born in New Mexico, was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen in 2011.

An indictment unsealed in February 2013 charged Babafemi, also known as "Ayatollah Mustapha," with four counts including conspiracy to provide material support to AQAP, and use of firearms.

U.S. District Judge John Gleeson scheduled sentencing for August 27. Babafemi faces a maximum of 30 years in prison.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Eric Effron and Gunna Dickson)

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