Suspected al Qaeda Cell Broken Up, Five Arrested
By Mark Scott
Lackawanna, NY – Authorities have broken up a suspected terrorist cell in Lackawanna. Officials said five men of Yemeni descent, who were American citizens, were arrested Friday on suspicions they were operating as a terrorist cell on US soil.
The five have been charged with providing material support and resources to terrorists. Officials didn't say what support the men are suspected of providing.
The suspects are identified as Shafal Mosed, 24; Faysal Galab, 26; Sahim Alwan, 29; Yasein Taher, 24; and Yahya Goba, 25. If convicted, they each face up to 15 years in prison.
They were arraigned in Federal Court in Buffalo Saturday afternoon.
Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson says two of the the men confirmed that they and six associates attended an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan in the summer of 2001. It's the same camp attended by American John Walker Lindh, but Thompson wouldn't say whether Lindh assisted in the investigation. Osama bin Laden visited the camp when the men were there.
Officials say that while they had evidence of contacts with foreign terrorists and possible training, there was no evidence the men were in the midst of launching an attack.
The brother of one of the men denies he had any links to terrorists. Albaneh Mosed says his brother, Shafal, is a peaceful person, with a wife, a child, and a job as a telemarketer.
Mohamed Albanna, a local civil leader and member of the Yemenite Merchants Association, says he's the uncle of Mosed and knows many of the people targeted in the federal investigation.
Albanna says the community is close-knit and it's a shock that the men picked up on charges of promoting terrorism.
Governor Pataki, in responding to the arrests said the "threat of terrorism is real."
At a Justice Department news conference in Washington Saturday, Pataki also said that to fight terrorism, we need the cooperation of law enforcement and the people of this country.
WBFO's Eileen Buckley was outside a two-story building near Ridge Road in Lackawanna Friday evening where FBI agents were on the scene. She observed agents coming out of the building with boxes of presumed evidence.
Lackawanna Mayor John Kuryak told her the FBI had notified him of an unspecified investigation six months ago.
The discovery of the Lackawanna-based al Qaeda cell and a recent spike in their overseas and internal communications is largely responsible for President Bush deciding to go to an Orange alert earlier this week.
Lackawanna has a sizeable Yeminite community. Thompson praised the Muslim community for its support in the investigation.
Just before the suspects' arraignment in U.S. District Court, a carload of people drove by the federal building chanting: "USA! USA!" Across the street, three protesters stood silently, holding signs.
Protester Beverly Heistand of Buffalo says the men are being labeled as a terrorist cell before any evidence has been revealed.