Sixth terror suspect arrested

THE BALTIMORE SUN

LACKAWANNA, N.Y. - The FBI has arrested a sixth man of Yemeni descent, family and friends said here last night, in addition to the five young American citizens charged Saturday with providing "material support" for al-Qaida terrorists.

The new suspect, whose family said he was arrested in the tiny Gulf emirate of Bahrain as he prepared for his arranged marriage there, was identified as Mukhtar al-Bakri, who lived near the other young men in the Yemenite community of this fading steel town. A federal official confirmed that a sixth arrest had been made and said it was expected to be announced today.

Bakri's brother, Ahmed, and his sister, who declined to give her name, said they had been notified by the FBI that their brother had been arrested. A family friend, Mohammed Adulo, said he also had learned that Bakri had been arrested in Bahrain, and he added that the FBI spent nearly seven hours late Friday searching a house here where Bakri was thought to live. They removed videotapes and other items, Adulo said.

Asked why Bakri might have been arrested, the sister replied: "We don't know, we don't have any idea. We do not think he was involved."

The five men charged Saturday were accused of undergoing weapons training at an al-Qaida camp in Afghanistan in the spring and summer of 2001 - before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon - and returning as what one federal agent called a "sleeper cell," awaiting an order for an attack on U.S. targets.

"We have the key players in western New York," said FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Peter Ahearn. "They worked together, they socialized together, they lived within blocks of each other. It's a trained group of individuals that were trained in Afghanistan. It's an al-Qaida-trained cell."

But on the streets of this small, forlorn city just outside Buffalo, where the big Bethlehem and Republic steel mills once provided hot, hard work, members of the stunned Yemenite community, which first arrived here in the 1920s to work in the mills, contended that their sons were regular guys, not terrorists.

Over and over, people on the streets, while wary of talking too much to the journalists who poured into town yesterday, insisted that the five men charged on Saturday were good family men, religious, and fond of playing soccer.

Those being held were identified as Shafal A. Mosed, 24; Yahya A. Goba, 25; Sahim A. Alwan 29; Yasein A. Taher, 24, and Faysal H. Galab, 26.

In addition, the affidavit presented in court Saturday as the main part of the criminal complaint against the five mentioned "Uncharged Co-Conspirators A, B and C." All were said to have lived in Lackawanna, but were now believed to be abroad.

The five had been interviewed for some months by the FBI but had maintained that they had gone only to Pakistan, and only for religious training. But, the affidavit said, one of three uncharged co-conspirators later recanted his story to an FBI agent "outside the United States" and said the group had gone to the al-Qaida camp near Kandahar, Afghanistan.

According to the affidavit, the FBI then reinterviewed Alwan, who admitted that they had gone to Afghanistan.

But FBI officials concede that they found no weapons or explosives during their searches Friday night into Saturday morning. And officials also admit that they don't know exactly what it was the group was supposed to do.

"We do not fully know the intention of those who are charged," the FBI director, Robert S. Mueller III, said at one of several news conferences held Saturday to announce the arrests. "The investigation is continuing.

"We have not seen any plan for an imminent attack in western New York or anywhere in the United States," Mueller added.

What the five, all of whom were born here, had in common according to the FBI indictment and people in the community who knew them, was that they all went to Pakistan in the spring of 2001 to study Islamic religion and culture under the auspices of a group called Tablighi Jamaat.

The organization, whose name translates roughly as "Group of the Proselytizers," is described as a kind of Islamic Jehovah's Witnesses, in that members often travel from place to place preaching a revivalist message.

It has an annual three-day gathering near Lahore, Pakistan, which draws one of the largest assemblies of Muslims after the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. Last year the gathering was reported to have drawn a million people, and the sect, founded in India in the 1920s, is regarded as one of the most influential Islamic movements in the world.

The group is not on any terrorist list. However, John Walker Lindh, the young Californian who pleaded guilty last summer to taking up arms against the United States with the army of the Taliban, and Robert C. Reid, the accused shoe bomber, have been reported to have been drawn into terrorist activities through contact with Tablighi Jamaat.

Representatives from Tablighi Jamaat delivered a lecture at the mosque here, and that lecture apparently inspired the trip by the five men in custody and the three others mentioned in the FBI affidavit.

Mukhtar Bakri, too, went on what was said originally to be the trip to study religion in Pakistan, friends and relatives said.

"I talked to them when they were thinking about going," said Adulo, the family friend. "His father, Ali, didn't want him to go, because he had a job and it was dangerous.

"When they went there, they wanted to study about their religion, but something else happened," he added. "They came back and they didn't look like they had studied their religion."

Bakri's sister added that he had gone to Pakistan not to join al-Qaida but to study religion and see what it was like living there. She said that he did not like it in Pakistan and that he had spoken of his disdain for Osama bin Laden. "He doesn't like Osama bin Laden," she said. "None of us do."

The men were well known in the close-knit Yemeni community, which numbers about 1,000 in this city of 20,000, most of whom live close together. They graduated from Lackawanna High School, where several starred on the soccer team, and they spent time at the Lackawanna Yemen Soccer Club.

Alwan was regarded as a rising young leader in the community, sometimes taking the place of the mosque's imam at prayer services and holding a job as a counselor to poor youths at a federal jobs program. Taher was voted "friendliest" in the high school class of 1996 and was a co-captain of the soccer team. Mosed was said to have been the best goalie the team ever had.

Galab, a car salesman, was also a fine soccer player. Goba appeared the most outwardly religious, with a traditionalist's long, untrimmed beard. In court, he said he would not swear on a Bible, only a Quran.

"They are like regular youth," said the mosque's imam, Abdulwahab Ziad, in his apartment across the street. "Nice youth. We didn't hear anything bad about them. They were born here. They have children, wives, jobs."

"I am pretty sure they will say to them 'We are sorry,' too, sorry the same as in Florida," he added, referring to three Muslim medical students whose car was searched in Florida last week.

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