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New Evidence Delays Bail Ruling for 6 N.Y. Terror Suspects

Court: Judge sets hearing on allegations about a suicide bomb manual, use of multiple identities.

October 03, 2002|JOSH GETLIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — A federal judge has delayed a decision on granting bail to six Buffalo-area men accused of receiving terrorist training at an Al Qaeda camp, amid new evidence introduced this week by prosecutors.

U.S. Magistrate H. Kenneth Schroeder, who had been expected to rule today on granting bail, postponed the decision until next week at the request of defense attorneys. He scheduled a hearing today in a Buffalo federal court to hear arguments on new allegations tying one of the defendants to a document about suicide bombings, written in Arabic.

The latest evidence, which had been filed in court papers by the Joint Terrorism Task Force of Western New York, also suggests that some of the men from Lackawanna--a small steel town south of Buffalo--had used multiple identities. All the defendants are American citizens of Yemeni descent.

"My decision will be delayed," Schroeder said after meeting with attorneys on both sides. "We're not going to rush this thing through."

Last month, Schroeder held a three-day bail hearing on the case of the so-called Lackawanna Six. Federal prosecutors have said the six men should remain in custody because they pose a flight risk and could threaten public security. Investigators allege that the men are members of a sleeper cell who heard a speech by Osama bin Laden while they spent time in the camp in the summer of 2001 and could be called upon by Al Qaeda operatives to commit terrorist acts.

Defense attorneys, however, have said their clients are innocent and should not be denied bail. Keeping the six men in jail until their trial begins, which could be more than a year away, would be punitive, the attorneys added.

All of the defendants could receive maximum sentences of 15 years if they are convicted of supporting terrorists. Two of the men, Mukhtar al-Bakri, 22, and Sahim Alwan, 29, have told federal investigators that they spent time in an Al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan. They have insisted, however, that they did not know of any plans by terrorists to attack the United States.

The other defendants--Yasein Taher, 24; Faysal Galab, 26; Shafal Mosed, 24; and Yahya Goba, 25--have neither confirmed nor denied that they spent time in the terrorist network's camp. The case has sparked anger in the local Yemeni community, which has rallied in defense of the six men.

U.S. Atty. William J. Hochul Jr., who is leading the prosecution, said that the newest evidence--especially the suicide bombing manual, which was found in a weekend search of Taher's apartment--constituted "clear and convincing evidence" that the six men would pose a threat to safety if they were granted bail by Schroeder.

Prosecutors have not said that Taher wrote what they described as a "chilling" and "scary" document, entitled "Definition of Martyrdom Operations, and Their Effect on the Enemy." The document notes that the common practice in suicide bombings is to "wire up one's body, or a vehicle or suitcase with explosives, and then to enter amongst a conglomeration of the enemy ... and to detonate in an appropriate place there in order to cause the maximum losses in enemy ranks."

"As for the effects of these operations on the enemy," the document continues, "we have found, through the course of our experience, that there is no other technique which strikes as much terror into their hearts, and which shatters their spirit as much."

Taher's attorney, Rodney Personius, said the document was in fact an academic essay about the ethics of suicide attacks that could have been lifted off the Internet, and he blasted prosecutors for quoting only the most "inflammatory" segments in their court filings.

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