MANHATTAN (CN) - Just extradited from the United Kingdom, a Vietnamese national pleaded not guilty Wednesday to five charges stemming from allegations that he became a Kashnikov-toting militant shilling for al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula's flagship magazine.
Minh Quang Pham, 32, spoke little - and in a soft British accent - during his roughly half-hour arraignment in federal court on Wednesday.
Dressed in a blue-and-orange prison uniform, Pham appeared clean shaven except for a shock of long black hair at his chin and a light mustache as he sat at the defense table.
Pham gently thanked the judge before waiving the reading of his indictment accusing him propagandizing inside al-Qaida's "principle base of operations" in Yemen.
Between March and April 2011, Pham worked from the group's safe houses under the pseudonym "Amin" to help disseminate al-Qaida's magazine Inspire, prosecutors say.
Answering those charges on Wednesday, Pham said: "I plead not guilty."
Many of the allegations in the indictment come from a still-unknown cooperating witness who is quoted as "almost always" seeing Pham carrying an AK-47.
British authorities searching Pham at Heathrow International Airport on July 27, 2011, found a live round of .762 caliber armor-piercing ammunition, consistent with Kalashnikov weapons, according to his indictment.
The informant also claims to have spotted Pham with the author of Inspire magazine's "I Am Proud to Be a Traitor to America," an article attributed to be Pakistani-American Samir Khan.
Khan died in the same drone strike that killed Colorado-born militant Anwar al-Awlaki, who was also associated with Inspire magazine.
Asked about this connection, Pham's public defender Steven Frankel responded: "That's what they say. I haven't seen it yet."
While Frankel suggested the prosecutors tried to link his little-known client with an "identifiable name," the indictment itself shields Khan's identity. The author of the Inspire article is referred to only as "American CC-2," short for co-conspirator.
The Southern District of New York had Pham arrested in the UK on June 29, 2012, but Pham's extradition did not go through until Tuesday.
The potential life sentence hanging over Pham's head drummed up sympathy for his nearly three-year extradition fight in British courts and the European Court of Human Rights, Frankel said.
British barristers found that the "U.S. system is antiquated and ridiculous" for seeking that penalty, the attorney added.
Describing his client as "one of the calmest people," Frankel told reporters that he knew of no other cases of an alleged al-Qaida member of Vietnamese descent, and he found this fact "unusual."
"He misses his family most," Frankel said of Pham.
Prosecutors say Pham told his wife that he was traveling to Ireland before going to Yemen for military training with al-Qaida.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Anna Skotko told the court that unclassified discovery in the case would consist of Pham's emails, statements and electronic media. She added that she would help Pham's counsel obtain security clearance to view potentially classified evidence.
U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan scheduled the next hearing for April 9.