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FBI Agent, Governor Pataki Address Reporters

Aired September 14, 2002 - 18:56   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Carol Lin at the CNN center in Atlanta. We're going to take you live now to Buffalo where we're going to be hearing from investigators who have arrested five U.S. citizens, as well as the governor of New York, their involvement in supporting al Qaeda.

GOV. GEORGE PATAKI, NEW YORK: ... Osama bin Laden, as well as being trained in terrorist tactics that could be used against American or Jewish interest here or around the globe. I believe these arrests send a very important message. The threat of terror is real, and it's not just in far corners of the globe or in large cities like Washington or New York.

The threat of terror is out there in every single community. And it means we must be vigilant, and we must have tremendous cooperation among all levels of law enforcement to deal with and be proactive in protecting the people of New York and the people of America.

On September 11 or shortly thereafter, I and federal officials and local law enforcement officials across the country said that we needed the people of New York and the people of America to be vigilant, to be at a heightened state of awareness, and to provide information and reports of any suspicious activity to appropriate law enforcement authorities.

We also said that one of the most important ways to deal with this threat to our freedom and our security was to make sure we had cooperation and coordination among all levels of law enforcement from the local law officials, the policemen on the beat, to the highest federal officials in Washington.

These arrests reflect the importance of those two directives and the fact that here in western New York that has happened. I want to first thank the people of western New York for being vigilant and proactive in reporting activities that they deemed suspicious and in particularly the Muslim community in western New York.

The support and help from the community was very important in allowing these arrests to be made. I also want to thank law enforcement and in particular the FBI and the joint terrorism task force. Shortly after September 11, Attorney General Ashcroft directed the creation of new joint terrorism task forces including one in western New York, and as Special Agent Ahern was saying the cooperation had predated September 11, but the official creation of the joint terrorism task force provided the structure so that formal coordination from local law enforcement officials like the Lackawanna City Police Department, the Erie and Niagara County Sheriff's Department, the New York State Police, who have played an extremely important role and all levels of federal law enforcement to provide the resources, the coordination, the help to allow us to go after, detect, arrest and charge those who would threaten our freedom.

So I want to thank all of those law enforcement agencies who have worked so cooperatively on the Joint Terrorism Task Force, and even before that, to make sure we do what we can to protect the people of western New York, of New York State, and of America.

I know there's a great deal of concern out there. And I think it's important that we not allow that concern to turn into fear. No state is doing more. We see the cooperation and the coordination in the arrests that were announced today. And I can tell you that we will continue to understand and act on the thesis that the most important thing the government does is to provide for the safety and the security of its people.

Shortly after September 11, we created an Office of Public Security that I believe is the finest in America, and it is working to make sure that we do coordinate law enforcement, but not just through agencies like the Joint Terrorism Task Force, but every day, with every single law enforcement agency all across this state.

We're the first state to have a dedicated antiterrorism computer network that allows for the instantaneous sharing of information among levels of law enforcement on a secure system. We created 16 coordinated antiterrorism zones that have allowed for this cooperation.

And just a few weeks ago, I was out here in Buffalo where we announced that the state police that had been increased by over 500 over the course of the past few years would be adding more than 100 additional troopers to patrol and provide additional surveillance along the border areas, including here in western New York.

For all the actions that have been taken and the importance of the arrests that were announced today, New York and America are still at an elevated level of alert. We are still at Level Orange. And what that means is that we still depend on that coordination among law enforcement and on the alert and responsive nature of the American people.

We're grateful for that support and for that reporting of information in this case. But we want you to continue to feel confident, to feel safe in your freedom, but to be alert and vigilant and report activities that you deem to be suspicious to appropriate law enforcement officials.

Again, I want to thank the people and law enforcement at all levels. I particularly want to thank the U.S. attorney here, Michael Battle, who has been an outstanding prosecutor before becoming U.S. attorney and an outstanding judge, and who has one of the finest offices anywhere in America that have brought these charges against the five individuals.

I want to thank Superintendent McMahon and the state police who have, as I said, been a part of the investigation from the beginning and are still a part of it today. All the members of this Joint Terrorism Task Force, which has been led by Special Agent in Charge Peter Ahern of the FBI, and they have done a tremendous job in putting together this case, marshaling the facts and the law and allowing the U.S. attorney's office to go forward with this prosecution.

And now we'd like Special Agent in Charge Ahern to speak and reveal the details of the cases and the actions that have been taken.


PETER AHERN, FBI SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE: Thank you. Good afternoon. Governor, thank you very much for coming here today. The FBI's proud to have you here at our office, as well as all the rest of the law enforcement and community leaders that are here.

I'm going to go down and talk a little bit about the arrests, and then we'll take some questions and answers, we'll make some comments before we begin that.

As pretty much everybody is aware, on September 13, the FBI and members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force arrested four individuals. There will be five, but I will explain it.

We arrested Sahim Alwan from Wilkes-Barre Avenue, Lackawanna, New York, Yahya Goba from Wilkes-Barre Avenue, Lackawanna New York, Yasein Taher, from Ludell (ph) Terrace, Lackawanna, New York, Shafal Mosed from Ingraham Avenue in Lackawanna, New York, and Faysal Galab, who is the fifth one that was arrested this morning at approximately about 8:30 this morning by agents of the FBI and the terrorism task force.

The individuals have been arraigned and were charged with providing material support in the aid of a foreign terrorist organization. In this case it will be al Qaeda, and we'll talk some more about that.

There were search warrants executed at two properties on Wilkes- Barre Avenue, two properties on Ingraham Avenue, one property on Ludell Terrace. There was a consented (ph) residence, one other residence and two vehicles along the way in this investigation.

There are so many, when you get into a successful investigation like this, there are so many people that you want to thank. But I want to address specifically the, the, the support that this task force and law enforcement has received from the inception of the investigation from the Muslim community here in western New York.

We could not have done this without their assistance. That assistance continued even after we initiated the arrests and the searches last night in an effort to apprehend the fifth subject, which was Faysal Galab.

When we talk about the terrorism task force, it's, it's, it's an interesting situation when you say that you create a task force for the purpose of working together. It definitely solidified the relations of law enforcement here in western New York. But frankly, as we were discussing earlier, we didn't need a task force to be able to work together on something like this.

But it did add an additional benefit. The task force, the Joint Terrorism Task Force, you look around in this room right now, and I can tell you, you couldn't tell the difference between an FBI agent, you know, or somebody from the task force, whether it be the Niagara Falls Police Department or the Erie County Sheriff's Office.

And I'd like to touch on that and tell you right now the members, the full-time committee members to this task force. When a law enforcement agency, for example, like in Amherst, as an example, decide to commit somebody full time into an effort like this, you take somebody, a law enforcement officer, off the street and put him into an effort that may not necessarily get benefit directly to the town, and a lot of times people behind me take a, take a lot of grief for doing something like that, not just local but federal and state.

Members of the task force are the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, Amherst, New York, Police Department, Erie County, New York, Sheriff's Office, the FBI, the Food and Drug Administration, the Greece, New York, Police Department, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Internal Revenue Service, the Lackawanna Police Department, Monroe County Sheriff's Office, the New York State Attorney General's Office, the New York State Police, Niagara County, New York, Sheriff's Office, the Niagara Falls, New York, Police Department, the Rochester, New York, Police Department, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, United States Attorney's Office for the Western District of New York, the United States Border Patrol, the United States Customs Service, and the United States Secret Service.

They are all members of the task force. The local, state, and federal officers have the clearances necessary to sit in the FBI, look at what we have, and be able to work an investigation of this magnitude.

As you see on the wall, we do have photographs of the individuals that were arrested. It's unusual for the FBI to release photographs of those that are arrested, but in this particular case, we believe, because of the cooperation of the Muslim community in western New York, that there are people out there that know these individuals, know that they traveled to Pakistan and then from Pakistan into Afghanistan, where they attended the training camps outside of Kandahar, Afghanistan, the Farook training camp.

They could provide more information about their activities, and that's why we put the pictures out there, and we'd like to hear from those individuals.

Now I'd like to take some questions. We'll begin.

QUESTION: Can we hear a little more about this tip that the federal authorities received? Was it from within the Muslim community that kind of began this investigation? AHERN: The information specifically I'm not going to go into, but I can -- suffice it to say that the Muslim community was involved in this from the beginning, OK, from that area, so.

QUESTION: Did they actually begin it, or had it begun before they began to (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

AHERN: I, I have to stay away from that, please, if I can. But it was (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I'm sorry.

We (UNINTELLIGIBLE) specifically to talk about the evidence. We're not going to reveal the exact evidence. I can tell you there were no weapons at this time that we found. I know there's always an interest in that. But there's a lot of evidence that we still need to look at. And I'd be inappropriate to go into the details right now.


AHERN: Go ahead, right here.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) subsequent activities, some subsequent activity? Case in point, John Walker Lindh. They came back to the United States. There was a -- in the affidavit, a discussion about possible terrorist acts. Can you fill that in, in any case? Were they coming back with instructions to wait for instructions?

AHERN: I can't, I can't really comment on the specifics of that, and the investigation still will be continuing to ascertain the scope of what they were doing in the investigation. But I can tell you, you know, that we did not, during this investigation, find at this point anything specific that they were planning, and I'll leave it at that.

You know, too, that would jeopardize the health and safety of anybody in the United States or western New York.


AHERN: So -- Go ahead. I'm sorry?

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) material support (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that were going al Qaeda. What were these people specifically doing?

AHERN: At this point, I'm not going to discuss that, because of the indictment.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) people at the border looking for assets being taken out of this country. And was this a situation where some of these people may have been trying to transport something out of this country or (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

AHERN: I, I'm not going to comment on that.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) John Walker Lindh coming to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) information that he gave you (UNINTELLIGIBLE)? AHERN: I can't comment on that at all. But I can tell you that the, the similarity of what happened, I mean, what you can compare it, I mean, these individuals went to the same training camp, which was the al-Farook training camp, which is located right outside in the suburbs of Kandahar. It is a multiple-location one, it's not just one specific camp, but it is the same camp that John Walker Lindh was at, and I can just leave it at that.



AHERN: Go ahead.


AHERN: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: Mohammed Jabara (ph), who's in custody, if there's any connection between the five (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

AHERN: Well, again, like in any investigation, I mean, this investigation has not stopped right here at this point. Again, I, I, I, I, there's no connection at this point that we know to that situation.


AHERN: Go ahead.


AHERN: The status of the co-conspirators A, B, and C at this point, I can't furnish any information. Again, the investigation continues, and if we have any of that information, we're going to provide it to you as soon as we get the information.


AHERN: The investigation's continuing.


QUESTION: ... (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for many months. What happened last night?

AHERN: Well, nothing specific happened. It wasn't because of result of a threat. But when we finally are able to put the evidence together that can lead to filing the charges, you know, we acted on it, and we filed the charges.

QUESTION: Is there anything (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

AHERN: Next question...

QUESTION: ... (UNINTELLIGIBLE) enforcement officer had tipped off a media organization, and that was the reason that prompted you to go in last night?

AHERN: No, that's not correct.


QUESTION: Did the Financial Crimes Information Center have anything to do with this? I mean, we've heard a little bit about that and how critical it is, the Financial Crimes Information Center.

AHERN: The, the, not the Financial Crimes Information Center, and, and specifically part of the JTTF operation here is, we do have a financial review operation that goes on, not necessarily all for just this case, but the information that funnels in. And that's part of a, a operation that's with the JTTF between Secret Service, Customs, the FBI, and the other members of the task force.

But that's a component. Any of the information, and again, not just with this case, anything that comes in that we're investigating that involves the financial stuff will be looked at by the JTTF, and they were part of this, and whatever we would see, but no comment on where that led.

QUESTION: One of the gentlemen from the local Muslim community told some of us today that one of these individuals had worked at one time as a translator for intelligence agencies -- excuse me -- because of the need for translation in the past year.

AHERN: I don't have...

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is that any, is that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) does it mean anything to you, do you know anything about that? Is that a concern?

AHERN: No, I have no information about that, no.

QUESTION: Do these suspects have anything to do with the reason the nation is on the orange alert level?

AHERN: Specifically, no. As commented today at the press conference, when you took a lot of factors in, and part of this, I'm sure, was factored in there, it was really more of other issues going on, that the, the, the information overseas. But this was looked at as part of that concern, I'm sure.

But no comment. I mean, I don't, I don't participate as far as making a decision on going from yellow to orange. But prior to 9/1l, just with -- when you combine a lot of things, the concern was that there could be something, and it was specific information, as you saw, to overseas, with the embassies in Indonesia. But at no time did we have any specific information in the United States that the would happen, clearly.

Question, go ahead.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) do you anticipate any other criminal charges? AHERN: Again, the investigation's continuing, and that's all I can say. Again, it doesn't stop. We have other things that we have to look at, and it may lead to other, other criminal charges, but it's too early to tell. Go ahead.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) six months, this is not like an investigation that began last week. And so far, you've come up with what is normally a lesser charge. Is there going to be more, do you think?

AHERN: There'll be the investigation's going to continue on this. I'm sure you're aware too that there are two phases of an investigation, the covert phase of this investigation right now is concluded. Now the opportunity is there, there will be a lot more investigation that needs to be done, and that will be done and followed up with.

QUESTION: You said that the arrests took place last night because you were able to gather the evidence finally. So does that mean that you are expecting indictments on Wednesday?

AHERN: The way the system would work is, it will be...


AHERN: ... I think we (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Mike.

QUESTION: ... to that?

AHERN: Mike, go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Actually on Wednesday, the matter is scheduled for a further proceeding related to the question of bail. This afternoon, when the defendants were arraigned, our office asked the magistrate that they be detained, which was granted, and it's now -- we will begin in court on Wednesday to discuss whether or not that will continue.

An indictment and whatever other proceedings will occur somewhere down the line.

AHERN: Barbara?

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) men (UNINTELLIGIBLE) this training camp as a base, right? John Walker Lindh?

AHERN: I'm not going to comment on that right now at all, please.

QUESTION: Can you talk about the type of training they received while over there?

AHERN: As alleged in the complaint, there was training that was going on with, with small arms, Kalashnikov rifles. And again, it -- the al-Farook is a basic training camp where members are sent, you know, like a boot camp, for about a seven-, eight-week period. So... QUESTION: Can you clarify again whether they even knew anything about 9/11? Do you believe they knew any, knew anything about 9/11, and were they planning anything after it?

AHERN: Again, I'm not going to comment on that.

QUESTION: Can you say if (UNINTELLIGIBLE) as Governor Pataki is trying to arrange for the public here, but especially (UNINTELLIGIBLE), can we say that these are the only individuals? You released these photos saying you're asking for more information, you want the public to be aware of who these men are. Is there a distinct possibility that there are more al Qaeda individuals in this area, be it Lackawanna, wherever it was, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) New York?

AHERN: Well, at this point, we have no information that would lead us to believe that there is anybody in western New York or in the United States right now. But I think that would be irresponsible of me to believe, to, to, believe that we know everything all the time and what's going on.

But right now, we believe that this part of the organization and this cell, we have the key players here in western New York, but if somebody has other information, we would love to hear about it.

QUESTION: Do you think that there's any reason of why they were specifically in Lackawanna (UNINTELLIGIBLE) proximity to the border?

AHERN: No, I don't. I mean, I know -- this community, like any other community, has their own ethnic, you know, based areas, and, you know, I can't say as to why here or somebody else -- or somewhere else, you know.


AHERN: No information at this time on that.

QUESTION: Did these men admit to going to -- for the training? Did they admit to being at the camps?

AHERN: I'm not going to comment on what they're -- what they've said.

QUESTION: Any idea how they became acquainted with the training camp to begin with?

AHERN: It's our understanding that they just -- what led them there is -- I don't want to comment on. But their initial involvement with an organization, a Muslim organization, at least led them over to the area of Pakistan. Once they were there, I'm not going to comment on what happened. So -- OK.


AHERN: No, no information about anything that it was because of the mosque. They were part of a, of a organization called the Tabliq Chamat (ph). This is the same group, if you do the research, it's the same group as John Walker Lindh, I believe. I want to make sure I'm not, you know -- again, from what I understand, I think it was Tabliq Chamat.

But again, it's a Muslim religious organization. I'm not saying that they are involved in anything at all. But it's a -- something that would, would -- is based over in Pakistan, and that's where they went.


QUESTION: ... have no information (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Canadian connection, does that mean the Border Patrol will remain as it is, or will it be increased?

AHERN: I have no comment on that, it's not related to this at all.

QUESTION: Were they born and raised in this area?

AHERN: They were born, I believe one individual was naturalized at the age of 14, the rest were born in the United States.

QUESTION: You said you don't believe that they were planning anything specific. But was it a concern that led you to make this move?

AHERN: Well, there's always a concern. But when you can disrupt something -- now, I'm not saying there was something specific -- but decision at time, when you put the evidence together, then it becomes a time just, it's time to go out and disrupt, if there was anything being planned. This was the time just to go out. We had it all together, there was no reason to continue on. So that's why the decision was made.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) some of these men, we're being told, at least one (UNINTELLIGIBLE) was born in Detroit before he moved here. Are you checking (UNINTELLIGIBLE) investigation in Detroit, Michigan? We know (UNINTELLIGIBLE) originally there had been some (UNINTELLIGIBLE) was there. I don't think they were specifically identified as al Qaeda. But is there an ongoing joint investigation (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

AHERN: Well, nothing specific to this, but we do know that these individuals traveled to Detroit, have roots in Detroit, and I won't comment any further than that.

Yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we can have the last question, please, and I'll point out to you that all the participants are available for questions on an individual basis afterwards.

AHERN: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to your knowledge, did they meet with any regularity in this country?

AHERN: They, I'm sorry, this, this one group?

QUESTION: Did they meet together...

AHERN: Well, they -- if you look on the map, they, they worked together, they socialized together, they lived within blocks of each other, and that's all I'll say as far as that's...

QUESTION: What do you mean by a cell, though?

AHERN: It's a, it's a, it's a trained group of individuals that were trained in Afghanistan. It's a al Qaeda-trained cell. It's a...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much.

AHERN: Yes, thanks. So, no comment on that...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So that wraps up the FBI...

AHERN: ... I'm not going to get into when, where, who what.

LIN: All right. You have just heard the latest from Peter Ahern. He is the FBI special agent in charge of this investigation. The latest arrests in their terror investigation, five U.S. citizens, five men, U.S. citizens of Yemeni descent were arrested yesterday.

Peter Ahern gave a little bit of background, but basically saying that they were tipped off. They would not say whether that tip originated in the Muslim community, which he credits with being incredibly helpful in this investigation.

He released photographs of all five suspects, saying that someone in the public would also know these men. They are looking for information from anyone who has seen these men traveling through the United States as well as through Central Asia, such as Pakistan.

And he said that when they were arrested, they gathered up several bits of information and evidence, which he would not detail, but he did say that there were no weapons, no guns, confiscated at the different scenes.

Wednesday there's going to be a bail hearing for these men. Each have been charged with providing material support to al Qaeda. That is the single charge each man faces at this point.

But Peter Ahern says that more charges may be pending, depending on the evidence that they've gathered, and any eyewitness testimony that may come forth from these news conferences.

We're going to have much more on this breaking news story on our big show at 10:00 Eastern, so please stay tuned. And more news throughout the evening as well.




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