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5 of 6 N.Y. Terror Suspects Denied Bail

October 09, 2002|JOSH GETLIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Calling them a threat to public safety, a federal judge Tuesday refused to grant bail to five local men who attended an Al Qaeda training camp several months before the attacks on the World Trade Center.

However, U.S. Magistrate Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder granted bail to Sahim Alwan, a sixth man who attended the camp, saying he had cooperated with FBI agents in providing details about the trip and seemed to be remorseful for what he had done.

The six men, who are accused of giving aid and support to Osama bin Laden's terrorist network, could face up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if they are convicted in a trial that is expected to begin next year. The case has focused national attention on what Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft called a "sleeper cell" awaiting orders to commit acts of terror in America.

"There are no [bail] conditions or combinations of conditions that I could impose that would reasonably assure the safety of the community and the appearances of the defendants when required," Schroeder said, explaining his denial of bail for Yahya Goba, Shafal Mosed, Yasein Taher, Faysal Galab and Mukhtar al-Bakri.

As the judge read his decision, the six men, wearing prison jumpsuits and shackled at their hands and feet, listened impassively as about 50 supporters sat quietly at the back of the courtroom.

Prosecutors have said that the six defendants attended the Al-Farooq training camp in Afghanistan, where they were taught how to use high-powered rifles and explosives, learned about the use of suicide bombings and heard an anti-American speech delivered by Bin Laden.

All six live in Lackawanna, a small steel town just south of Buffalo, and are American citizens of Yemeni descent. Members of their community, who have raised thousands of dollars for their legal defense, have insisted that the men made an innocent mistake in attending the camp and that they are victims of anti-Muslim paranoia. The supporters have said there is no evidence that the men were preparing any acts of terror.

"I don't think that just six individuals are on trial," said Dr. Khalid Qazi, who heads the western New York chapter of the American Muslim Council. "I think the entire American judicial system is on trial, and the world will be watching very carefully to see how fairly--how honestly--these men are going to be treated."

Schroeder, who said he had scrupulously followed the spirit and letter of the U.S. Constitution in his decision, noted that he had not been influenced by the "maelstrom of human emotions" unleashed in America after the Sept. 11 attacks, including "fear, anxiety, hatred and a feeling of paranoia in many of the hearts and minds of the inhabitants of this great nation."

Normally the decision whether to grant bail is dealt with quickly after a defendant is charged with a crime. But in this case, the judge--citing the extraordinary complexities facing the legal system in dealing with terrorist suspects--convened a bail hearing that lasted four days. He gave the attorneys opportunities to show that their clients were not a threat to public safety or a flight risk, and to rebut government evidence.

Yet Schroeder said there had been virtually no exculpatory evidence produced by defense attorneys after their clients' Sept. 13 arrests.

The judge indicated that the government might have a tough time proving its case, but he also raised "troubling" questions about the men's behavior: "Were they recruited by someone to make this trip, and if so, by whom, and on what basis were they selected, and for what purpose? How is it that six young men from Lackawanna, N.Y., were allowed to enter a secret training camp known as Al-Farooq in Afghanistan and attend a speech given by Osama bin Laden?"

As for Alwan, Schroeder said the defendant had informed FBI agents of the men's mysterious trip to Pakistan and Afghanistan in the spring and summer of 2001. The judge also noted that Alwan, unlike the other men, left the camp early--instead of attending an entire five-week training session--because he felt that the Al Qaeda leaders were "crazy."

However, the judge attached sweeping conditions to Alwan's bail, beyond the posting of a $600,000 bond.

Under the order, Alwan cannot leave his house except to go to work; he must wear an electronic monitoring device on his ankle and also must wear a global positioning system device that will track his movements. He must submit to having his phone tapped by the government and is not permitted to have a cell phone or access to a computer. Alwan, who is unemployed, must also pay the costs of such monitoring.

James Harrington, Alwan's attorney, said his client was gratified that he received bail, but was also "somewhat stunned" by the restrictions.

"We said at the beginning of this that we would be willing to comply with whatever requests the judge set for bail, and we meant it," Harrington said. "But some of these are fairly extreme. I've never heard of this being done before."

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