Bail Hearing Ends, Ruling Delayed
By Cameron French
Buffalo, NY (Reuters) – Six U.S. citizens of Yemeni descent alleged to be an al Qaeda cell faced a third day of hearings on Friday to determine whether they will be freed on bail or await trial behind bars.
Presentations from prosecutors, who say the six are dangerous and should be denied bail, and their defense lawyers, who argue that government has not proved its case, are expected to conclude in the afternoon.
But U.S. Magistrate H. Kenneth Schroeder will likely wait until next week to rule on the bail issue for the six residents of Lackawanna, New York, all of whom lived near each other.
The men -- Mukhtar al-Bakri, 22; Yasein Taher, 24; Faysal Galab, 26; Sahim Alwan, 29; Yahya Goba, 25 and Shafal Mosed, 24 -- have been charged with providing material support to al Qaeda, the militant Islamic network led by Osama bin Laden and blamed by the United States for last year's Sept. 11 attacks.
But defense attorneys have argued that nothing in the government's presentation established that the defendants provided support to the organization.
"The facts alleged in the complaint and even set out in this proffer, do not constitute a violation of this statute as it was intended, as it was enacted, and as it has been interpreted," Joseph LaTona, attorney for Galab, told Reuters on Friday.
Although the six had no direct connection to the attacks, investigators say they were trained to use assault rifles and other weapons in an al Qaeda-run camp in Afghanistan in the spring and summer of 2001, just months before the attacks that killed more than 3,000 people at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in western Pennsylvania.
The camp, known as al Farooq, was the same one attended by John Walker Lindh, a U.S. citizen captured in Afghanistan as a Taliban fighter.
On Thursday, defense attorneys argued that mere attendance at the camp did not constitute material support for al Qaeda, saying that attendance did not necessarily mean participation.
"There's a gaping hole in their proffer concerning any acts either of any commission of any violence or even acts in preparation of any act of violence from June 2001 up until the time they were arrested," LaTona said.
PROSECUTORS CITE FLIGHT THREAT
Assistant U.S. Attorney William Hochul had argued on Wednesday the men, all residents of a small Yemeni community in the upstate New York town of Lackawanna near Buffalo, posed a threat of flight and should be held without bail.
But defenders cited the strong ties of the men to their community and to their home town, pointing out that several of the men's families had put up substantial assets to ensure that even a high bail amount could be met.
Defense lawyers have also pointed out that the two affidavits the government used to arrest the witnesses were based almost entirely on interviews with co-defendants al-Bakri and Alwan.
Alwan and al-Bakri are the only two defendants who admitted they attended the camp, although Alwan's attorney has said he wanted to leave the camp early, but was prevented by al Qaeda leaders.
The other four defendants admit they were in Pakistan at around the same time, but do not admit they were at the camp.
Government lawyers did not issue comment in advance of the hearing.
Defenders also argued that the focal point of the U.S. Attorney's case -- an e-mail entitled "The Big Meal," and believed by investigators to have spoken of a possible attack on the United States -- was actually the result of a conversation in a restaurant in Saudi Arabia that referred to an attack on that country.
The e-mail, allegedly sent by al-Bakri to another of the alleged al Qaeda supporters and containing passages such as, "The next meal will be huge," and "No one will be able to withstand it, except those with faith," was seen by investigators as speaking of a future attack on the United States.
The specific charges against the suspects -- providing, attempting to provide and conspiring to provide material support to a foreign terrorist group -- carry a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.
Two other men from Lackawanna, identified as Kamal Derwish and Jaber Elbaneh, are reported to be in Yemen. Authorities have said they believe Derwish was the group's leader, who encouraged the men to travel to Afghanistan for training.