- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 11, 2003

BUFFALO, N.Y., Jan. 11 (UPI) — A Lackawanna man, who pleaded guilty Friday to aiding al Qaida, said Osama bin Laden claimed responsibility for the attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa and a forthcoming attack on America.

Faysal Galab, 26, a U.S. citizen of Yemeni descent, and one of the so-called "Lackawanna Six" accused of being a terrorist cell, accepted the plea agreement before U.S. District Court Judge William Skretny in Buffalo, N.Y. for contributing and attempting to contribute funds, goods and services to bin Laden and his terrorist group al Qaida.

The plea agreement states that Galab and other defendants arrived at the al Farooq terrorist training camp near Kandahar, Afghanistan in spring 2001 and that "bin Laden appeared and spoke to everyone at the camp, stating that 50 men were on a mission to attack America."

Galab alleged Bin Laden also claimed responsibility for attacking American embassies on the continent of Africa, according to court papers.

In early April of 2001, Galab said he agreed with the co-defendants and others to attend a military-type training camp in Afghanistan, knowing that their planned trip was illegal, the plea agreement said.

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 sentencing 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, Galab admitted attending the training camp but he has not admitted to wanting to harm Americans although he did say he bought an al Qaida uniform.

"He has not admitted to being a member of al Qaida and he has not admitted to planning or preparing, or agreeing to engage in any act of terrorism whatsoever," Latona said.

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 last October.

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.

The six, all U.S. citizens who are members of Lackawanna's Yemeni community, pleaded innocent. Prosecutors asserted that their terrorist training camp 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.

Bin Laden and al Qaida were added by executive order to the list of specially designated terrorists on Aug. 20, 1998. The executive order prohibits transactions by U.S. persons with bin Laden and al Qaida.

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 restricted to 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.

Court papers said that within a few days of Galab's return to Buffalo, Alwan approached Galab and informed him that he had been contacted by a member of the FBI regarding his trip overseas.

Alwan stated to Galab that he had falsely told the FBI that he did not travel to Afghanistan, and further told Galab that if approached by the FBI, he should lie to the FBI regarding his travel overseas, the federal complaint said.

Allegedly Alwan repeated this statement to Galab two more times in the months following the initial instruction.

Galab also alleged that on one occasion, Alwan personally met with bin Laden while was in Kandahar, Afganistan. Alwan told Galab that bin Laden asked, "Is anyone in America is willing to die for the cause?"

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."

At the October bail hearing, defense attorneys 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.

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.

Members of the Lackawanna Yemeni community were surprised by the sudden change in plea.

"I am totally shocked and I wish it never happened, I also wish he didn't wait this long to tell the truth and I am hoping the others will come out with the truth as soon as possible," said Dr. Khalid Qazi, president of the Western New York chapter of the American Muslim Council. "Any time an American does anything against our country it's despicable."

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