- The Washington Times - Friday, January 10, 2003

BUFFALO, N.Y., Jan. 10 (UPI) — One of the so-called "Lackawanna Six" pleaded guilty Friday to contributing and attempting to contribute funds, goods and services to Osama bin Laden and his terrorist group al Qaida, the first of the group to do so.

Faysal Galab, 26, a U.S. citizen of Yemeni descent, accepted the plea bargain in Buffalo, N.Y. federal court before U.S. District Court Judge William Skretny.

"Those who see fit to provide their money or service to support America's enemy, even if they are American citizens, will face the full force of American justice," U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said in a statement.

Galab is one of six Lackawanna residents who, the government said, "knowingly and unlawfully combine, conspire, confederate and agree to provide material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization, namely al Qaida."

If convicted of the original charge, Galab would have faced a 20-year sentence, but now he faces a 10-year sentence and a $250,000 fine on the lesser charge. He will have a hearing in April.

As part of the plea bargain, Galab is cooperating with the investigation and is expected to testify against the other defendants.

"This plea was arrived during the normal course of the criminal prosecution," U.S. Attorney Mike Battle said. "We have been talking to Galab's attorney (Joseph) Latona for quite some time."

According to Latona, while his client admits to attending the training camp, he has not admitted to being a member of al Qaida or wanting to harm Americans.

Prosecutors said if Galab cooperates fully they would recommend a prison sentence of 7 years.

Galab, Shafal Mosed, 24; Yasein Taher, 24; and Yahya Goba, 25, Mukhtar al-Bakri, 22, and Sahim Alwan, 29, were charged with conspiring to give material support and resources to the foreign terrorist organization.

The six, all U.S. citizens who are members of Lackawanna's Yemeni community, were accused of attending a bin Laden terrorist training camp near Kandahar, Afghanistan in 2001. Prosecutors asserted that their attendance constitutes the provision of material support to al Qaida, prohibited under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.

However, prosecutors said Galab was offered a plea on the lesser charge of violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, an executive order signed by former President Clinton in 1998.

Court papers do not indicate that the six are accused of providing any assistance beyond attending the camp.

According to Peter Ahearn, special agent in charge of the FBI's Buffalo office, the six were trained for up to six weeks in small arms such as the Kalashnikov rifle, rocket grenades and explosives in a type of terrorist boot camp.

The men had drawn the attention of investigators in the summer of 2001, even before the attacks on Sept. 11 of that year, after the FBI received information from a member of the Yemeni community in Lackawanna, a city of 20,000 adjacent to Buffalo. The informant told the authorities that "a number of individuals had attended and participated in terrorism training in Afghanistan.

The FBI investigated, but the men initially denied going to Afghanistan and said they had gone to Pakistan to learn more about Islam.

All of the defendants had pleaded innocent on Oct. 22. They were denied bail with the exception of Alwan.

The prosecutor's case is based on what the prosecution said were the admissions of Alwan and al Bakri to the FBI that the six had attended the training camp.

Alwan had cooperated with the FBI and told agents that he wanted to leave the training camp in Afghanistan but was not allowed to do so. But in his second week there, he faked an ankle injury and was then allowed to leave, according to court papers.

In October, Alwan was granted bail of $600,000 but was not released from home custody. Under the bail conditions, Alwan was to be at home 24 hours a day except for appearances at court, at his job or to seek medical attention. He was not to have access to faxes, computers or the Internet.

However, according to court papers, Galab has said that Alwan told him to lie about going to the terrorist training camp. Galab also alleged that Alwan told him he had met personally with bin Laden who asked him, "Is anyone in America willing to die for the cause?"

At the October bail hearing, the attorneys for the defendants had said that their clients had expected to attend religious training in Islam in Pakistan and were duped into attending the terrorist training camp.

They described their clients as "good Americans" — all were born in America — who had no plans to put anything they may have learned in Afghanistan into practice.

But prosecutors said the alleged Lackawanna terrorist cell was waiting orders from al Qaida for an attack somewhere in America but that "there was no evidence the six posed an imminent threat."

According to Ahearn, no weapons were found during the Sept. 13 arrest "but the men lived close to each other, they worked together, they trained together and they socialized together; they are an al Qaida-trained cell."

Battle noted that criminal charges against the other defendants indicted last October remain in place and the investigation into the activities of the defendants and others continues.

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