Published May 21, 2003
BUFFALO, N.Y. – A seventh man was charged with participating in a terrorist "sleeper" cell based in upstate New York by attending an Al Qaeda (search) training camp run by Usama bin Laden (search) before the Sept. 11 attacks.
An FBI criminal complaint charged Jaber Elbaneh, 36, with conspiring to provide material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization. The FBI said Elbaneh is believed to be abroad.
Elbaneh is from the Buffalo suburb of Lackawanna (search). Six other men -- dubbed the "Lackawanna Six" -- have already pleaded guilty in the case and are cooperating with authorities. Elbaneh was charged with the others, but the complaint was not unsealed until Wednesday.
Prosecutors have said other arrests were possible.
"On one front, we are shutting down sources of material support to Al Qaeda and securing the cooperation of individuals who trained with our enemies," Attorney General John Ashcroft said. "At the same time, the unsealing of the charges against Jaber Elbaneh demonstrates our ongoing resolve to hunt the globe for those who aid and train with terrorists."
Prosecutors say members of the Lackawanna cell attended the al-Farooq camp in Afghanistan in the summer of 2001. Some of those who went say they were trained in assault weapons and explosives, and that they met with bin Laden.
The FBI said Wednesday that investigators have evidence the cell was active after the men returned from Afghanistan. Stan Borgia, assistant special agent-in-charge of the FBI's Buffalo office, would not elaborate, except to say that the support went beyond staying silent about the training camp.
Defense lawyers strongly reject the portrayal of the group as a sleeper cell. They said the men were scared into silence upon their return by what they had seen and heard at the camp, and frightened even more after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The six men who pleaded guilty -- Mukhtar al-Bakri, 23; Faysal Galab, 27; Shafal Mosed, 24; Sahim Alwan, 30; Yahya Goba, 26; and Yasein Taher, 25 -- all face between seven and 10 years in prison for conspiracy to provide support to terrorists. They were indicted in October 2002.
Al-Bakri's plea agreement mentioned seven unidentified people who met or traveled with him during his trip to Afghanistan. They included two Saudi men who told him at a Pakistan hotel that he would meet "the most wanted," which he understood to mean bin Laden. Previous plea agreements in the case also have mentioned unidentified men.
The alleged ringleader of the Lackawanna cell was Kamal Derwish, a Yemeni-American believed killed Nov. 3 in Yemen by a CIA air strike.
In December, three of Elbaneh's relatives were charged with sending more than $480,000 to Yemen without a license to operate a money-transferring business. The three are awaiting trial.