BUFFALO, Sept. 15 -- An alleged terrorist cell based in western New
York and trained by Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network was on the U.S.
government's radar before the Sept. 11 attacks, a prosecutor said
The investigation into the Lackawanna cell began early in the summer of
2001, about the time that the men returned from Afghanistan, said Michael
Battle, U.S. attorney for western New York. All five were born in the
United States and of Yemeni descent.
"What essentially happened is that information came to our attention
that pointed us in the direction of these individuals," Battle said.
He declined to comment on specifics, but he said law enforcement
officials took investigative steps to corroborate the information.
"It was based upon that corroboration that we began to look a little
deeper," Battle said.
He said the communications and other activities surrounding the cell
intensified this month.
Federal authorities who announced the arrest of the members of the
alleged terror cell said bin Laden had lectured the men on his
anti-American beliefs while they were in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in the
months before Sept. 11.
The men came home to Lackawanna, five miles south of Buffalo on Lake
Erie, in June 2001. Federal agents said there was no indication that the
cell was planning an attack in the United States.
Relatives of the men have denied they were involved with al Qaeda.
Officials said the discovery of the terrorist cell was related to
information that prompted the Bush administration to raise America's
terror alert to "code orange" -- the second-highest -- on the eve of the
one-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
FBI Special Agent in Charge Peter Ahearn said Saturday that the
investigation was continuing but that authorities believe the key figures
in western New York have been caught.
The men were charged Saturday with providing material support and
resources to foreign terrorist organizations.
According to the criminal complaint, the five men -- Shafal Mosed, 24;
Faysal Galab, 26; Sahim Alwan, 29; Yasein Taher, 24; and Yahya Goba, 25 --
live within a few blocks of one another in Lackawanna and trained together
at a camp in Afghanistan.
"At this point in time, we're not sure they have, in fact, committed a
crime, regardless of any conduct they might have been engaged in," James
Harrington, a court-appointed lawyer for Alwan, told CNN.
Ahearn characterized the group as a cell trained by al Qaeda. "They
worked together, they socialized together, they lived within blocks of
each other," Ahearn said.