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FBI News Conference on Sixth Man in Buffalo Terror Investigation

Aired September 16, 2002 - 12:35   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Live to Buffalo now, where the FBI is holding a news conference on the sixth man arrested in connection with the terror investigation in upstate New York.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

PETER AHEARN, SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE, FBI: He is one of the unnamed co-conspirators. That would be co-conspirator, unnamed C.

Go ahead, I'm sorry.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

AHEARN: Yes. He is also from the Lackawanna area -- Lackawanna, New York.

QUESTION: And his residence was searched Friday night?

AHEARN: That is correct. And while we're on the subject of that, I want to clarify one thing. You know, I may have misspoken.

We have reviewed some of the evidence and I apologize. I am not always up to speed on everything out of the places. But the issue of the weapons, minor -- the weapons are always serious, but we did find three weapons I would describe as typical type weapons that we have found almost every criminal search we've done. They are nothing that would be out of the ordinary from the standpoint of a threat to public safety or anything.

I'm not going to go into the weapons, but three weapons were found in some of the residences, so I want to clarify that. But, again, no bomb-making things that we have seen yet or anything of that nature. I just want to clarify that.

Yes?

QUESTION: Does this seem more closer to the other two suspects? And also, what is next for this investigation?

AHEARN: Well, again, it wouldn't be responsible for me to talk about what we're doing and other issues. I'll leave that to other decision-makers. But the investigation, again, will continue. We need to get into the court process. We have to deal with the issues of the detention hearings on Wednesday, and there will be other things that will be done in the normal course of the investigation.

One point to make with that is, again, these are serious charges. I mean, the fact -- and I hear the community mentioning things of this nature about what was done, why would somebody -- that United States citizens be in a terrorist training camp. It leads one to ask the question, are there other individuals that someone may know not just here, but in any other part of this country, whether or not they were in any terrorist training camp, whether they got there through whatever religious camp trips they were on with regard to -- for example, going to anything for religious training in any other country?

But, again, those are things that we are interested in. We, being the government, the intelligence community, to find out if there are other people out there that were actually in those camps.

Yes?

QUESTION: Can you tell us since C is referenced in the unsealed one, has he, in fact, been in Bahrain since July of last year when the affidavit states he went to Bahrain or did he go other places? And if so, can you elaborate? Also, it's reported according to his family that he was there for an arranged way?

AHEARN: Again, will not...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

AHEARN: confirm what country, but he has been overseas for a length of time. It's my understanding that he was either getting married or was married at the time of his detention by that country's authorities.

But to comment on exactly where he went or things of that nature, I think I have to pass on that.

QUESTION: Well, was he (UNINTELLIGIBLE) within the U.S. in July?

AHEARN: Honestly, I don't know. I would tell you if I knew.

QUESTION: Was he here in Lackawanna?

AHEARN: Question over here.

QUESTION: The question is, did he resist arrest in any way? Or has he been cooperative with the FBI and other authorities?

AHEARN: It's my understanding that he did not resist any arrest at all. He has been cooperative. We've been working with his family, and that's all I'll say on that.

QUESTION: Regarding co-conspirators A and B.

AHEARN: Sure. What about it? QUESTION: Are you expecting arrests any time soon?

AHEARN: Not appropriate to comment on. I just don't want to deal with something that we're still dealing with and working on.

Yes?

QUESTION: Does this particular suspect play any more of a significant role in the suspected cells than the others? His is arrest more significant for any reason?

AHEARN: They're all significant, and I won't talk about his role or anyone else's. But the charges are serious. His role -- or trying to discuss whether it's more or less is inappropriate at this time.

Yes?

QUESTION: You know, we're hearing that there are supposedly other, quote, "bigger fish" out there. How concerned should western New Yorkers be or Americans be if they're said to be more dangerous than these guys?

AHEARN: Western New Yorkers should be, you know, no more or less concerned than anybody else in the United States with regard to terrorism. That kind of question, are there more out there -- well, I would have to say from my experience, yes, they're all over the world. I mean, look at the events in the last week and a lot of those arrests overseas are not related to what's going on here. But the FBI, the intelligence community, you know, the CIA, the joint terrorism task force here -- we're always looking for that. And, you know, to try to characterize it, it's always a concern, but I don't have any information if there's any other part of this group operating here in the Buffalo area.

Yes?

QUESTION: Did Mr. Bakri attend the cell group training camp as well, along with the other five?

AHEARN: Yes, he did.

QUESTION: So, A and B, are they also connected to western New York and Lackawanna?

AHEARN: Yes, they are.

QUESTION: Is he also being charged with...

(CROSSTALK)

AHEARN: At this time the only charges right now are what we have here. Other charges are always there. Should the evidence point that way, we will do it, yes.

QUESTION: The weapons, were they guns and were they licensed? AHEARN: That's what we're still checking out. They were guns. There are two guns and a device -- a stun-gun of some type. I will say that. But the purpose of not -- we do want to check them out. We want to trace them, but they weren't out of the ordinary for weapons. No automatic weapons. No AK-47s. Things of that nature.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

AHEARN: We're still checking out the registration on it. That's what we're trying to do.

QUESTION: As you go through this prosecution, do you suspect that these suspects will be tried here in Buffalo or will they be transported to Washington or the Virginia area or...

AHEARN: I know Michael Battle is not here. He has to attend the initial appearance that'll be going on. But in talking with Mike earlier, and I would understand it, we expect those charges to be here. We expect that to be in western New York. But those issues are left to the attorney general and other people as far as that goes.

Yes?

QUESTION: On the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) plus the two not yet arrested, would you say that that's the extent of this Lackawanna cell or might there be more?

AHEARN: Well, I would say right now that's what we're dealing with. I would hope that's it. But, again, more information comes in from the community. One thing I'd like to mention very quickly on the community. I think we need to say this. We've been dealing with these issues since 9/11, the issues with the Muslim community. The one thing that the FBI and law enforcement are definitely charged with are the protection of everybody's civil rights. I've heard comments made by the community, the Muslim community, about their concerns for these individuals. But the FBI has the responsibility for the investigation and prosecution with the United States attorney's office of any kind of hate crime.

When we had the 9/11 issue, we brought in all the leaders of the Muslim community. I had a lot of discussion with them. Mike Battle has talked to them, and I can tell you right now, it is a zero tolerance on any kind of threats or any kind of action against people in this community, as well as the rest of the country. We've had no incidents since 9/11. I don't expect any. But I can guarantee you, and I can guarantee the Muslim community that we will be on that very quickly if there is any kind of issue.

AHEARN: So take fair warning anybody that's thinking about it.

QUESTION: Are any of the six cell (UNINTELLIGIBLE) considered so- called leader of the cell?

AHEARN: Again, it goes to different levels. I don't want to talk about that right now. QUESTION: Yesterday Mike said that you're reaching out to the community. Is there anything for them to look for, anything Americans can specifically look for to give you information that will be helpful?

AHEARN: That's hard to say. An example right here would be the fact that if there is information out there that some people attended a terrorist training camp. Again, we're not saying that because they went to some religious training that that religious group is at issue. But the fact that we have the evidence that strongly supports the fact that they were in a terrorist training camp is concern. And what could happen with that, what role they played, I won't comment on that right now.

QUESTION: Can you go over the time line and where al-Bakri fits in in terms of when you first spoke to him? And does Customs -- I see you've got other folks here so, obviously, those other agencies may have some involvement...

AHEARN: Let me interrupt at this point and suggest that if any of our partners here would like to step up and make a statement or answer some questions, I think it might be a good idea.

I know with regard to Customs, I mean, they're part of this task force. The only part of that that would relate to al-Bakri was the fact that like anything else or anyone else coming into this country, he had to be cleared when he came into the country with INS, Customs and things of that nature. But time line wise...

QUESTION: He was cleared when he came in or when he left?

AHEARN: Well, as far as when he left and things, I won't get into that. I'm talking about his arrival here.

Let me introduce Tim Koerner from the U.S. Secret Service.

TIM KOERNER, SECRET SERVICE: My presence here today is really just to show the multilevels of support for the joint terrorism task force here at the Buffalo FBI. The strength of this task force is really made up of the difference of the individuals who comprise it. They come from all sorts of different backgrounds and all sorts of different expertises when it comes to criminal investigations and intelligence.

The fact that this group of law enforcement officers from the local, state and federal levels are together with one mission really makes a formidable investigative team, and that's evidenced by the arrests that you've seen recently.

The Secret Service, obviously, supports this across the country. There are many JTTFs across the country and each of these task forces, although right now the media attention is focused on the Buffalo JTTF, each of these task forces are working day and night, around the clock, every day of the year to make sure that they have the same sort of successes that Buffalo has had recently. PHILLIPS: Tim Koerner with the Secret Service. Also Peter Ahearn, special agent in charge of the Buffalo Division of the FBI, talking before Time, talking about the sixth man arrested in connection with terror investigation in upstate New York. His name is Mukhtar al-Bakri. He was apprehended in Bahrain. He will now be arraigned in New York.

Five other men were arrested in a suburb of Buffalo, New York, Friday might. Now a total of six men in custody, all are accused of training in an al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan last year. The investigation into tracking down such alleged terrorists continues all throughout the New York area and, of course, the United States.

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