WASHINGTON – The five New York men accused of supporting terrorism trained at a camp in Afghanistan run by Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network, according to U.S. authorities.
In court Saturday, U.S. Magistrate H. Kenneth Schroeder unsealed a criminal complaint against the men, who are all in their 20s, American-born and of Yemeni descent. The five were charged with providing material support and resources to foreign terrorist organizations, which could earn each of them up to 15 years in prison.
The men were identified as Shafal Mosed, 24; Faysal Galab, 26; Sahim Alwan, 29; Yasein Taher, 24; and Yahya Goba, 25. They lived within a few blocks of one another in the Buffalo suburb of Lackawanna, according to the complaint.
Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson announced Saturday that the men had trained at an Al Qaeda terrorist camp in Afghanistan where Usama bin Laden gave a speech decrying America and Israel.
"The United States law enforcement has identified, investigated and disrupted an Al Qaeda trained terrorist cell on American soil," Thompson said at a news conference in Washington.
FBI Special Agent Edward J. Needham wrote in the complaint that unindicted co-conspirators told him Goba, Alwan, Mosed and Taher were present at Al Qaeda's al-Farooq terror training camp near Kandahar, Afghanistan. While there, the men allegedly learned how to use Kalashnikov assault rifles, handguns and long-range rifles.
One of the three co-conspirators said that Mosed also trained to use heavy artillery and that bin Laden spoke to the trainees, the agent said. The co-conspirators are not named, but two are described as American citizens.
Needham said that in one interview, Alwan "stated that he and his friends had attended terrorist camps" in the spring and summer of 2001.
It was the same camp John Walker Lindh attended, but officials declined to say if Lindh assisted with the investigation.
During their court appearance, the handcuffed and shackled men quietly answered "yes" or "no" as Schroeder asked if they could afford lawyers.
Mosed, tall and slim, frequently used a copy of the complaint to shield his face from courtroom spectators. After answering Schroeder's questions, Galab issued a hearty "Thank you, sir."
William Clauss, an attorney assigned to represent Goba, said he had just met his client and couldn't comment.
The judge entered a "not guilty" plea for each man and set a detention hearing for Wednesday. He ordered the men jailed until then.
About a half dozen family members quickly left the court after the hearing without speaking to reporters.
Officials did not specify the type of support the men were suspected of providing. They did reveal, however, that the discovery of the cell was linked to information that also led the Bush administration to issue a "code orange" terror alert -- the second-highest -- on the eve of the Sept. 11 anniversary.
Peter Ahearn, special agent in charge of the FBI's Buffalo field office, said there was no immediate threat that sparked the arrests.
"We did not find, at this point, anything specific that they were planning," Ahearn said at an evening news conference.
"We have the key players in western New York," Ahearn said. "But if somebody has other information, we'd love to hear about it."
Thompson, in Washington, said the investigation stemmed from information "indicating that a number of individuals" from the area had participated in weapons training last year at a terrorist camp in Afghanistan.
Four of the men were arrested Friday night after federal agents raided several houses and a social club in Lackawanna. Agents were seen taking two boxes and a blue cooler from an apartment above an Arabian deli. Galab was arrested Saturday morning.
John Kuryak, mayor of the Buffalo suburb of Lackawanna, said the FBI told him six months ago that agents were investigating a national security matter in the area.
Relatives of the men denied that they were involved with Al Qaeda. Albaneh Mosed said FBI agents burst into his home and arrested his brother, Shafal Mosed.
"If he was a terrorist I'd be the first to know," He said. He said his brother, who is married with a 3-year-old child, attended community college and worked as a telemarketer. "He's a peaceful person."
Mohamed Albanna, a local civil leader and member of the Yemenite Merchants Association, said he knew many of the people targeted in the federal investigation.
"I think it's disturbing that any of them were picked up because we feel that every member of the community is close," said Albanna, an uncle of Mosed. "We are a small, close-knit community so whether it's a nephew, a cousin or a brother, it's a shock to us that these individuals were picked up and charged."
On Saturday, Gov. George Pataki praised Lackawanna's Muslim community, saying it had assisted in the investigation.
"It's through vigilance, it's through cooperation at all levels of law enforcement and through having the support of the American people that these arrests have been made," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.