Agents arrest three relatives of man accused of being al-Qaida

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Three relatives of a man accused of belonging to an al-Qaida terror cell in the Buffalo suburb of Lackawanna were arrested Tuesday and charged with illegally operating a money-transferring business.

Investigators have been unable to trace any of the money to terrorist activities, said U.S. Attorney Michael Battle.

Mohamed Albanna, a leader in the area's Yemeni community and an uncle of a man still being hunted by U.S. authorities, was seized by Customs and Drug Enforcement Administration agents in the doorway of his Buffalo store, the Queen City Cigarettes and Candy Co.

His younger brother, 29-year-old Ali Albanna, and a 52-year-old cousin, Ali Taher Elbaneh, also were arrested.

All three were indicted by a federal grand jury on a charge they sent more than $480,000 to Yemen without a license to operate a money-transferring business, which is required by state law.

All three pleaded innocent at their arraignment. If convicted, they face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The Albannas' nephew, Jaber Elbaneh, an alleged member of the Lackawanna cell, was last reported at large in Yemen, according to U.S. officials.

Six other men from Lackawanna, all Yemeni-American men in their 20s, were arrested in September and charged with providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization.

Prosecutors say they visited an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan in spring 2001 attended by Osama bin Laden.

Mohamed Albanna has been the face of the Lackawanna Yemeni community and an outspoken advocate for the men since they were arrested in September. He has rallied the community, attended every hearing and continuously proclaimed their innocence.

"It's very disappointing to me. The gentleman has portrayed himself on local TV shows and around the nation as a community activist," Lackawanna Mayor John Kuryak said hours before Albanna's arrest.

The alleged leader of the Lackawanna cell, Yemeni-American Kamal Derwish, was believed killed in a CIA airstrike on Nov. 3 in Yemen, U.S. officials have said.

The six men now in custody could get up to 15 years in prison if convicted under a 1996 law that prohibits giving support to foreign terrorist organizations.

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