From homecoming king
to terrorist?

By WND Staff

Editor’s note: In collaboration with the hard-hitting Washington, D.C., newsweekly Human Events, WorldNetDaily brings you this special report every Monday. Readers can subscribe to Human Events through WND’s online store.

In 1997, Yasein Taher, a native-born U.S. citizen, was the homecoming king at Lackawanna High School in upstate New York. Mukhtar al-Bakri, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was another student at the school. Now, the Justice Department is claiming that these young men are part of the advanced guard of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida terrorist network.

According to a criminal complaint filed against them in federal district court after they were arrested, Taher and al-Bakri attended a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan between May and June of 2001 with four other Lackawanna men of Yemeni descent – all native U.S. citizens – who are also in federal custody. The complaint states that two others remain at large as uncharged co-conspirators. At least one of these is also a U.S. citizen, registered to vote in New York State, Human Events found.

Further, the complaint states, al-Bakri was monitored sending an e-mail to one of the alleged co-conspirators that appeared to foretell a future terrorist attack. In a Sept. 18 detention hearing for the six suspects, Assistant U.S. Attorney William Hochul described the e-mail-written in Arabic on July 18, 2002, as mimicking coded language used by bin Laden in a Dec. 31, 2001, videotape that aired worldwide. Under interrogation, Hochul said, al-Bakri admitted to FBI agents that the e-mail’s references to a “big meal” actually refer to an attack using explosives.

“The next meal will be very huge,” the e-mail read. “No one will be able to withstand it except those with faith. There are people here who had vision, and their visions will be explained that this thing will be very strong.”

Al-Bakri and the five others in custody are charged with providing material support and resources to al-Qaida, and face a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

While declining to give their names, an official at Lackawanna High School confirmed that Al-Bakri was not the only one of the suspects to attend the school.

Al-Bakri was arrested in Bahrain and brought back to the United States last week. The five native citizens – Yahya Goba, 25, Sahim Alwan, 29, Shafal Mosed, 24, Yasein Taher, 24, and Faysal Galab, 26 – had already been arrested and charged in Lackawanna Sept. 12. All have entered pleas of “not guilty.”

Authorities suspect that the two other alleged co-conspirators – Jaber Elbaneh, 36, and alleged ringleader Kamal Derwish – are now in Yemen.

Family members of the alleged terrorists have described the men as being good citizens and members of the community in Lackawanna, a decaying steel town south of Buffalo.

A search of prison records by Human Events found that apparently none of the suspects has done time in New York. Human Events’ search of 2001 New York voter records found that at least six of the eight suspects are registered voters – all Democrats.

William Clauss, the defense attorney for Goba, told the Associated Press that the men have strong community ties and should be released on bail.

“People in the community – friends, family, relatives – are willing to put up their entire life savings, the homes they live in, because they’re so confident that these gentlemen are not dangerous to the community,” he said.

But the two criminal complaints filed in U.S. District Court in Buffalo paint a very different picture, suggesting that overwhelming evidence shows the men are bin Laden’s allies and represent a danger to the community. According to the complaints, at least two of the men – Alwan and al-Bakri – have already admitted to attending terror training at bin Laden’s al-Farooq camp near Kandahar, Afghanistan, for three to four weeks. They also implicated the other seven suspects during their interrogation, both complaints state.

While in training, the eight Lackawanna men allegedly received “instruction on firearms,” including the use of sniper rifles, assault rifles and explosives. The criminal complaint states that Derwish was observed receiving more advanced training in heavy artillery.

The men said they had originally traveled to Pakistan for religious training, and this was the story Alwan and al-Bakri originally gave authorities. But the complaint states that, under questioning, both men changed their statements and said all eight suspects had attended the training camp.

The complaint also records an admission by al-Bakri that during the summer of 2002, “he sought a replacement passport, falsely claiming that he had lost his passport” to conceal his trip to Pakistan from authorities.

In fact, this alleged deception did him no good. Michael Battle, U.S. attorney for the Western District of New York, told reporters last week that authorities had had the men under surveillance ever since late June of 2001, when they returned to Lackawanna from Pakistan.

While at al-Farooq, the complaint states, the New Yorkers actually saw bin Laden speak in person on “the alliance of the Islamic Jihad and al-Qaida.” They also heard other lectures on “Jihad (holy war) … and justification of using suicide as a weapon.”

Hochul also presented evidence at the detention hearing that the accused are fanatics and represent a danger to the community unless they are held until trial. Investigators, he said, had found two guns and a telescopic sight at al-Bakri’s home. They also found an Arabic-language audiotape entitled “A Call to Jihad,” which asks “Allah to give Jews and their enablers (U.S.) a black day,” Hochul said.

Hochul also accused one of the suspects, Mosed, of lying about his financial resources in hopes of getting a reduced bail amount. The FBI found $6,400 in cash in a coat pocket at Mosed’s house, Hochul said, but Mosed had told the court he had a net worth of only $1,000. He also claimed that Mosed had recently spent $89,000 at a casino.

“Releasing these defendants … simply would not satisfy or assure the safety of the community or assure their appearance in court,” Hochul said.

The arrests came the same weekend Pakistani authorities finally caught up with Ramzi Binalshibh, allegedly a central figure in the 9-11 terror attacks. According to affidavits filed by the government in the case against terror suspect Zacarias Moussaoui, Binalshibh wired thousands of dollars to Moussaoui and also to the 9-11 hijackers from various cities in Germany.

Government officials have alleged that Binalshibh – who tried unsuccessfully at least three times to enter the United States and take flying lessons before Sept. 11, 2001 – may have planned to join the hijack effort. Now officials have said he is cooperating with authorities.

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