A 33-year-old man carrying uranium inside the soles of shoes in his luggage was arrested at Kennedy Airport and accused of planning to sell yellowcake uranium to be shipped to Iran, prosecutors said.
Federal prosecutors in Florida say the man, from Sierra Leone, was arrested at JFK Wednesday after a flight from Paris. The raw uranium he is accused of carrying is not believed to pose immediate harm.
During an investigation over several months, prosecutors say the man had communicated with an undercover Homeland Security agent, promising he had connections to a firm that mined uranium in Sierra Leone.
Prosecutors say an agent first posted an ad on the website alibaba.com seeking to purchase processed uranium, also known as yellowcake uranium. Yellowcake can be used in nuclear weapons, when processed further.
The suspect responded to the ad, and began communicating with the agent.
Prosecutors say the agent told the suspect that he wanted to obtain the uranium to send to a Middle Eastern country "to be disguised with other types of ore and which would yield 1,000 tons of the purified element," the criminal complaint said.
The negotiations continued over several months, and the suspect flew to New York City on Wednesday, intending to board a connecting flight to Miami to meet the agent.
When he was arrested, prosecutors say he had raw uranium in two pairs of shoes and a thumb drive with a contract for the sale and supply of the uranium to Iran.
He is charged with violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and Iranian Transaction Regulations.
He faces up to 20 years in prison and possible $1 million fine.
--Shimon Prokupecz contributed to this story