Prosecutors: No bail for six accused of helping al Qaeda
FBI: Big meal e-mail referred to explosion
From Susan Candiotti
BUFFALO, New York (CNN) -- Federal prosecutors argued Wednesday that six men accused of attending al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan should be denied bail because they are a flight risk and a danger to the community.
To buttress their case, prosecutors presented an e-mail sent last July by one of the men, Mukhtar al-Bakri, in which he wrote cryptically about a "big meal" and said "no one will be able to withstand it except for those with faith."
Speaking outside of court at the conclusion of the government's presentation, Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Hochul said al-Bakri, when questioned by the FBI after his arrest, admitted that the "big meal" about which he wrote "referred to a large explosion that was being planned by al Qaeda against Americans."
Hochul declined to elaborate on the details of that possible attack.
"There is evidence of continuing dangerousness to the community," he said, adding that "the danger to the community and the risk of flight was so grave that there were no conditions or combination of conditions that would allow the court to ensure that the defendant would continue to show up in court if he was released."
The "big meal" e-mail was sent by al-Bakri, in Bahrain, to an unidentified person in the Buffalo area on July 18, 2002. Hochul said the recipient has not been charged in the case.
In court, prosecutors noted that the e-mail language about seeing visions echoed language used by Osama bin Laden in a videotape last December, in which he was discussing the September 11 terrorist attacks.
The government also presented a statement given to the FBI by another suspect, Sahim Alwan, in which he said that while in Afghanistan, he and some of the other suspects listened to a speech by bin Laden in which he urged them to "train and fight for the cause of Islam" and made anti-American comments.
The six men, who are U.S. citizens of Yemeni descent, are charged with providing material support for a foreign terrorist organization.
U.S. Magistrate Kenneth Schroeder recessed the bail hearing for the day after the prosecution's presentation. Defense attorneys will begin their presentation at 2 p.m. Thursday.
The six suspects are Sahim Alwan, 29; Yahya Goba, 25; Shafal Mosed, 24; Yasein Taher, 24; Faysal Galab, 26; and Mukhtar al-Bakri, 22.
In court Wednesday, the men sat together at two tables with their attorneys, attired in beige jail uniforms. They were handcuffed when brought in, although the handcuffs were taken off before court began.
Family members and supporters of the men sat in two rows of the large courtroom.
Two other suspects investigators say were involved with the group -- Kamal Derwish and Jaber Elbaneh -- are still at large, and law enforcement officials say they do not know where they are, though some officials believe they could be in Yemen.
An FBI official described Derwish as a recruiter for al Qaeda in both the United States and overseas. He used to live in Lackawanna, New York, a suburb of Buffalo.
"He played more of a central figure than the others," a law enforcement official told CNN.
Al-Bakri was questioned by the FBI in Bahrain on September 11 -- the one-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks -- and returned to the United States last weekend, prosecutors said. Overseas intelligence sources tell CNN that he was married on September 9, and U.S. authorities were tipped off to his whereabouts when family members made arrangements to travel there for the wedding.
Prosecutors said that in his statement, al-Bakri said that while he felt like part of al Qaeda when he was in Afghanistan, he no longer considers himself to be an al Qaeda member.
Alwan also gave a statement to the FBI on September 12 admitting that he had been to the al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan, prosecutors said.
On Tuesday, a government official told CNN that the FBI decided to move against the men last week after al-Bakri allegedly made a phone call in which he said, "Goodbye, you won't hear from me again." The phone call in Bahrain was intercepted by U.S. intelligence.
While authorities were concerned about what the message might have meant, no evidence has turned up so far indicating that the suspects were planning an imminent attack, the official said.
Bill Clauss, Goba's defense attorney, said the prosecution's case "was rather thin on the issue of whether or not our clients had given material support or resources to a terrorist organization." He said the defense would dispute the government's contention that merely attending a training camp violates the law under which the men are charged.
Family members of the men insist they traveled overseas for religious instruction.
But in court Wednesday, Hochul said the men knew the nature of the trip and "went willingly" to Afghanistan, where they received code names, firearms training and instruction in the use of explosives.
"The defendants could at any time have chosen to go home," Hochul said, adding that the fact that they did not shows they were willing participants. He said the case "is not about mere thought but about providing material support."
Three of the men -- Taher, Galab and Mosed -- traveled in one group in April 2001, going from Canada to Pakistan via London and the United Arab Emirates, prosecutors allege. Four others -- Alwan, Goba, al-Bakri and Elbaneh -- allegedly traveled from New York to Pakistan in May.
Once in Pakistan, they allegedly crossed over the border in Afghanistan to attend the al Qaeda training camps. The men stayed for five to six weeks, except for Alwan, who left after 10 days.
Derwish, whom government sources describe as the person who recruited the group, was already in the region.
Schroeder questioned prosecutors about whether Alwan's quick departure proved that he was not a willing participant. In response, prosecutors noted that after the September 11 terrorist attacks, he never came forward with information about the camps that could have been helpful, revealing it only a year later after being contacted by the FBI.
Prosecutors also said the FBI agents who searched the suspects' homes in Lackawanna found a .22-caliber handgun, with a spent shell in the chamber, and a long-range rifle with a scope in al-Bakri's former residence. Investigators also found an audiotape with Arabic writing on the outside that translates as "A Call to Jihad."
Also, prosecutors said about $6,400 in cash was found in the home of Mosed, who told the judge during an earlier court appearance that his net worth was only about $1,000.