WASHINGTON – U.S. counterterrorism officials said Wednesday that a suspected member of a U.S.-based terror cell was one of a number of convicts who escaped from a prison in Yemen Friday.
Elbaneh, a 36-year old American of Yemeni decent, was charged in an FBI criminal complaint with conspiring to provide material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization. Elbaneh, who is from the Buffalo suburb of Lackawanna, is believed have attended an Al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan before the Sept. 11 attacks with the six other Yemeni-Americans, also from the Buffalo area, who were convicted on terrorism charges.
U.S. officials believe that following the terror training in Afghanistan, Elbaneh went to Yemen — where he was arrested sometime in the last three years.
Officials say Elbaneh and the others "have extensive contacts throughout Yemen and the region and are undoubtedly getting help getting out of the country."
Interpol said the 23 convicts escaped through a 140-yard-long tunnel "dug by the prisoners and co-conspirators outside." A Yemeni official said the prison was at the central headquarters of the country's military intelligence services, in a building in the heart of the capital city of San'a.