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Another Yemeni American Admits to Al Qaeda Training

The Nation

A plea by a third alleged cell member in New York includes a promise to implicate three more.

March 26, 2003|Richard A. Serrano | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Another member of the so-called Lackawanna Six terrorist cell pleaded guilty in federal court on Tuesday, admitting that he had learned to fire assault rifles at an Afghan training camp and that he and the others heard Osama bin Laden speak about "men willing to become martyrs for the cause."

The plea by Yahya Goba, a 26-year-old unemployed language and religion teacher, means that half the defendants now have admitted attending the camp in the spring of 2001 -- a federal offense, because Americans are not allowed to provide material support or other assistance to terrorist organizations.

It also raises expectations that the remaining three defendants may enter guilty pleas as well in the weeks ahead. No trial date has been set in the case.

"The Justice Department has given us the go-ahead to enter into plea negotiations with all the defendants," said Carol Haar, a spokeswoman from the U.S. attorney's office in Buffalo, N.Y.

As part of his plea, Goba will aid the government in its prosecution against the remaining three, should they stand trial in Buffalo. In return, he will receive a 10-year prison term. Had he been convicted by a jury, Goba could have received 15 years. He is set to be sentenced in July.

When he was arrested, Goba told authorities that he had been out of work since May 2000.

Authorities searched his home and said they turned up "several cassette tapes which extol the 'virtues' of the holy jihad, military action against the infidels and promote martyrdom in support of the jihad."

In the plea agreement, prosecutors provided new details about the trip.

In April 2001, officials said, two unidentified men recruited the group of Yemeni Americans from Lackawanna, N.Y., and one of the defendants, Sahim Alwan, "gave a speech to defendant Goba and others about the requirement to prepare for jihad."

They traveled to the region in May, and for a time stayed at a residence in Pakistan prosecutors said was the home of a man "associated with the Taliban." They next stayed at a guest house in Kandahar, Afghanistan, "associated with the Al Qaeda terrorist organization."

At the guest house, prosecutors said, the group saw a tape about the bombing of the U.S. destroyer Cole that included suicide-bombing talk by Bin Laden.

Goba and the others in the Lackawanna group then went to the Al Farooq training camp, where he was trained on a number of firearms and a grenade launcher; they attended a speech by the Al Qaeda leader.

"Bin Laden spoke about the alliance of Al Qaeda and the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, made anti-American and anti-Israeli statements, said that Americans must be driven out of Saudi Arabia, and said that there were 40 men willing to become martyrs for the cause," prosecutors said.

Shafal Mosed, in his plea agreement Monday, recalled that Bin Laden said there were 50 men willing to carry out suicide missions.

Before leaving Afghanistan, Goba visited with one of the recruiters in Kabul. Later, in August 2001, Goba "permitted" one of the recruiters to stay at his home in Lackawanna, prosecutors said.

"This man stayed with defendant Goba until shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, at which time the man told Goba that he wanted to fight for the Taliban against the Americans," prosecutors said. "Goba believes that this man was later captured by the Americans in Afghanistan."

Faysal Galab pleaded guilty in January. A seventh suspect, Kamal Derwish, described as the group's leader, died in November in a CIA airstrike in Yemen.

The remaining defendants are Sahim Alwan, Yasein Taher and Mukhtar al-Bakri.

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