Published January 13, 2015
Two remaining members of a suspected Al Qaeda-trained terror cell in western New York are believed to be in Yemen, an FBI special agent said Tuesday.
"We do believe this individual is in Yemen. He was here in the Buffalo area for several years," FBI Special Agent Peter Ahearn said in a televised interview, referring to Jaber Elbaneh, a man named in court papers as "uncharged co-conspirator B."
He said the other man also could be in Yemen.
When they were in western New York, the suspects attended lectures by a "religious group" before going overseas where they were lectured by Usama bin Laden, said Ahearn, who heads the FBI's Buffalo office.
"These individuals are traveling overseas for purposes of religious studies and for one reason or another wind up in a terrorist training camp outside of Kandahar, Afghanistan," he said on NBC's Today show. "These are issues that would obviously raise concern to a lot of people."
Five members of the cell were arrested last week.
The sixth, Mukhtar al-Bakri, 22, a Yemeni-born American arrested in Bahrain last week, was charged Monday in federal court with conspiring to provide support or resources to foreign terrorists.
U.S. Magistrate H. Kenneth Schroeder entered an innocent plea for al-Bakri and ordered him held until a bail hearing Wednesday with the five men arrested last week during raids in suburban Lackawanna.
The five are Shafal Mosed, 24; Faysal Galab, 26; Sahim Alwan, 29; Yasein Taher, 24; and Yahya Goba, 25. All are American citizens of Yemeni descent.
Investigators said that when they interviewed al-Bakri on Sept. 11, he initially lied, saying he and five other suspected terror cell members went to Pakistan in 2001 for religious training.
The agents told al-Bakri they didn't believe him, and he later admitted the group went to a camp near Kandahar, Afghanistan, where they learned terror tactics and were lectured on topics including the use of suicide as a weapon, according to an affidavit filed by FBI Agent Edward Needham.
One on occasion, bin Laden lectured the 200-or-so trainees at the camp, the same one attended by John Walker Lindh, according to the FBI.
"To sit there, as we outlined in the complaint, and listen to lectures from somebody of the likes of bin Laden, knowing full well that he was behind the attack on the embassies in Africa, behind the attack on the USS Cole, is a bit disturbing," Ahearn said Tuesday.
Prosecutors say the alleged western New York terror cell came under scrutiny before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and that communications had intensified among the men this month. The men had returned from Afghanistan in early summer 2001, U.S. Attorney Michael Battle said.
Al-Bakri's lawyer, John Molloy, questioned the strength of the government's case.
"The complaint charged is aiding a terrorist organization," he said. "I don't know what that means. The strength of their case might be impaired if there are no specific acts that they think are imminent."
Federal authorities have said they had no evidence of any pending attacks planned by the cell.
And Ahearn said he had no information there were any other members of the cells operating in the Buffalo area.
"Western New Yorkers should be no more or less concerned than anybody else in the United States with regard to terrorism. It's that kind of question: Are there more (terror cells) out there? I would have to say from my experience, yes, they're all over the world," he said.