By Richard Weizel
MILFORD, Connecticut (Reuters) - Two British men who pleaded guilty to raising money for al Qaeda and the Taliban go to a U.S. court on Friday seeking access to secret documents about a witness whose testimony could influence how long they spend in prison.
The pair, 39-year-old Babar Ahmad and 34-year-old Syed Talha Ahsan, have argued in papers filed in U.S. District Court in New Haven, Connecticut, that they have a right to more information on the witness, British citizen Saajid Badat.
According to U.S. prosecutors, Badat was recruited into al Qaeda as a result of Ahmad's work and went on to play a role in the attempt by "shoe bomber" Richard Reid, another Briton, to blow up a jetliner over the Atlantic Ocean just three months after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Prosecutors have argued that the sealed documents defense lawyers are requesting are too "sensitive" to release, while the defense contends that they could show that Badat would be willing to lie about their clients.
"The witness has perhaps the greatest incentive to lie and the greatest need for effective confrontation," the lawyers said in court papers. They noted that the witness served less than seven years in prison and has not been extradited to face charges in the United States.
Tom Carson, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Connecticut confirmed that Badat was the witness in question.
Prosecutors plan to interview Badat before Ahmad and Ahsan are sentenced.
"The witness ultimately moved on from (recruitment by) Ahmad and came under the mentorship and training of actual al Qaeda members who trained and prepared him for al Qaeda's so-called 'shoe-bomb' plot," prosecutors argued in court papers requesting that Badat be interviewed in Britain.
Ahmad and Ahsan in December pleaded guilty to running the Azzam.com web site, which raised money for al Qaeda and the Taliban. They were prosecuted in Connecticut because U.S. officials in the state played a key role in the investigation.
Ahmad faces up to 25 years in prison and two to five years' probation. Ahsan faces up to 15 years in prison and up to five years' probation. Each could be fined up to $500,000.
(Editing by Scott Malone and Grant McCool)