BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) – Five American men charged Saturday with supporting terrorism trained to use assault rifles and other weapons at an al-Qaida camp in Afghanistan where Osama bin Laden spoke about his anti-American beliefs, authorities said.
The men, all in their 20s and of Yemeni descent, appeared in court Saturday and were charged with unlawfully providing material support and resources to foreign terrorist organizations.
The judge entered an innocent plea for each and ordered the men jailed until a detention hearing Wednesday. The charges carry a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.
Officials said the discovery of the terrorist cell was connected to information that also prompted the Bush administration to raise America’s terror alert to “code orange” – the second-highest – on the eve of the Sept. 11 attacks 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.”
“The United States law enforcement has identified, investigated and disrupted an al-Qaida trained terrorist cell on American soil,” Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson said.
According to the criminal complaint unsealed by the judge Saturday, all five men – Shafal Mosed, 24; Faysal Galab, 26; Sahim Alwan, 29; Yasein Taher, 24; and Yahya Goba, 25 – live within a few blocks of each another in the Buffalo suburb of Lackawanna and trained together.
FBI Special Agent Edward J. Needham wrote in the complaint that unindicted co-conspirators told him Goba, Alwan, Mosed and Taher attended al-Qaida’s al-Farooq terror training camp near Kandahar, Afghanistan, where they were trained to use Kalashnikov assault rifle, 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.
During the training camp, the men were lectured on “Jihad (holy war), prayers and justification for using suicide as a weapon,” according to Needham’s affidavit.
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.
“We do not want to get into the details of the investigation, but we have had great cooperation from the Muslim-American community and we appreciate that a great deal,” Thompson said.
The men said little in court, quietly answering only “yes” or “no” when U.S. Magistrate H. Kenneth 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.
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.
Lackawanna Mayor John Kuryak said the FBI told him six months ago that agents were investigating a national security matter in the area.
“When you first hear about it, you do get that initial shiver. You almost tell yourself, ‘Not in your back yard. Not in my community.’ But that was for a split second,” Kuryak said. “No one can be that naive or take anything for granted these days since 9-11.”