Arrests this week in Pakistan New York state praised as progress
By Larry Margasak ~ The Associated Press
The Bush administration Saturday hailed anti-terrorism arrests from suburban Buffalo, N.Y., to Karachi, Pakistan, and promised to tighten the noose on al-Qaida and the terrorism cells it supports.
The capture in Pakistan of a suspected Sept. 11 operative, Ramzi Binalshibh, demonstrated that "We are relentless, we are strong, and we're not going to stop," President Bush said at Camp David, Md.
"One by one we're hunting the killers down," he said.
Shortly afterward, five Americans of Yemeni descent made initial appearances in federal court in Buffalo on charges of providing material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization by attending an al-Qaida-run training camp in Afghanistan in the spring of 2001.
"We do not fully know the intentions of those who were charged today, and our investigation is continuing," FBI director Robert Mueller said, adding authorities were not aware of plans for an imminent attack.
Deputy attorney general Larry Thompson said the arrests in New York were the latest salvos in an effort to disrupt domestic terrorist activities. In the past few weeks, the government charged a man with trying to help al-Qaida set up a terrorist training camp in Oregon and accused three men in Detroit of supporting terrorism and acting as a "sleeper cell."
The government will "aggressively pursue terrorists and those who aid terrorists wherever they reside," Thompson said at a news conference with Mueller and New York Gov. George Pataki.
Training with bin Laden
The five men in their 20s live within a few blocks of each other in the Buffalo suburb of Lackawanna, N.Y. They trained at a camp where Osama bin Laden rallied the troops with a speech espousing his anti-American and anti-Israeli views, Thompson said. The training included the use of assault and anti-aircraft weapons, and artillery, according to the criminal complaint.
Another trainee there was John Walker Lindh, an American who pleaded guilty to aiding the Taliban and has been cooperating with the government as part of the agreement.
Thompson would not say whether Lindh provided any helpful information about the Lackawanna suspects.
Thompson said two members of the cell confirmed that they and six associates attended the camp. The complaint said there were three unidentified, unindicted co-conspirators -- two believed to be in Yemen and a third who was interviewed by the FBI at an unidentified location outside the United States.
A law enforcement source, who asked not to be named, said Lackawanna residents provided initial information about the travels of the men. Thompson praised the assistance of Muslims in the Buffalo area for aiding the investigation.
One co-conspirator told authorities that two months ago he sent an e-mail to one of the other co-conspirators that included information police have interpreted as referring to possible terrorist activity, the complaint said. Authorities declined to elaborate on the information.
U.S. Magistrate H. Kenneth Schroeder unsealed the complaint against Shafal Mosed, 24; Faysal Galab, 26; Sahim Alwan, 29; Yasein Taher, 24; and Yahya Goba, 25.
Their training in the al-Qaida camp amounted to material support for a terrorist organization under a 1996 law. If convicted, they each face up to 15 years in prison.
The judge entered innocent pleas for each man and determined each was eligible for a lawyer paid for by the government. One suspect, who held a full-time job, was asked to contribute a portion of the legal fee.
The five, dressed casually and handcuffed and shackled, listened attentively, providing quiet "yes" or "no" answers to Schroeder's questions. He scheduled a detention hearing for Wednesday and ordered the men jailed until then.
Albaneh Mosed, the brother of Shafal Mosed, said he does not believe the accusations.
"Waking up, praying, going to work, coming home, praying, bringing home the bread, the butter -- that was their life," he said. "This is unfathomable. It's crazy. This is a made-up story."
However, Thompson said, "The United States law enforcement has identified, investigated and disrupted an al-Qaida trained terrorist cell on American soil."
Thompson declined to comment on the next step for Binalshibh, a roommate of Sept. 11 hijacking leader Mohamed Atta in Hamburg, Germany.
Germany's interior minister, Otto Schily, said Saturday he would seek the extradition of Binalshibh to Germany, which had issued an international arrest warrant for him. It was not immediately clear how Germany's extradition request would affect U.S. plans for Binalshibh.
The capture by CIA operatives and Pakistani forces ended a one-year global manhunt for Binalshibh, who authorities alleged provided money and logistical support to the hijackers.
Binalshibh, 30, who was born in Yemen, was frustrated in his attempts to receive a visa to enter the United States in 2000, where, U.S. officials allege, he planned to join the other 19 hijackers.
He is considered an aide to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, believed to be the mastermind of the Sept. 11 suicide hijackings.