A member of an alleged terrorist cell in upstate New York who attended an Al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan in the spring of 2001 pleaded guilty Friday to a charge of assisting the enemy, in what the Justice Department said was a step forward in its war on terrorism.
A onetime used-car salesman, Faysal Galab, 26, faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. He also agreed to testify against five other defendants in the case, all U.S. citizens of Yemeni descent and residents of Lackawanna, N.Y., near Lake Erie. Galab entered his plea in federal court in Buffalo.
To federal authorities, the case of the "Lackawanna Six" shows how the threat of terrorism -- and the reach of Osama bin Laden -- has hit close to home. In recent months, they have accused a U.S. citizen from Seattle of trying to help Al Qaeda set up a terrorist training camp in Oregon, and have charged three men in Detroit with supporting terrorism by acting as an organized sleeper cell.
"Those who see fit to provide their money or services to support America's enemies, even if they are American citizens themselves, will face the full force of America's justice," said Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft.
Michael Chertoff, chief of the Justice Department's criminal division, added, "We continue to commit every resource to tracking down terrorist cells here in the United States, from coast to coast." Michael Battle, the U.S. attorney for western New York, whose office is leading the investigation, called the guilty plea "a significant resolution."
In court documents, Galab acknowledged agreeing with his five co-defendants in April 2001 to attend a military-style training camp in Afghanistan, knowing the trip was illegal. The agreement eventually took him to the Al-Farooq "basic training" camp near Kandahar that is associated with Bin Laden and was once attended by John Walker Lindh, the so-called American Talib.
At the camp, Galab received weapon instruction, learning how to fire an assortment of automatic rifles and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, and took instruction on other military-type subjects, such as explosives, according to court documents. Three weeks into the training camp, Bin Laden appeared, claiming responsibility for attacking U.S. embassies in Africa and stating that "50 men were on a mission to attack America," according to the plea agreement. On June 27, 2001, Galab flew home.
As part of his deal with the government, Galab acknowledged that by purchasing a uniform and attending the Al-Farooq camp, he violated a federal law that prohibits contributing funds, goods and services to designated terrorists. His sentence could be reduced to as little as seven years, depending on his cooperation with authorities. Sentencing was tentatively scheduled for April 30.
Prosecutors conceded they have no evidence the men posed an imminent threat, but said the six may have been awaiting orders from Bin Laden to carry out an attack in the United States. The suspected ringleader of the Lackawanna group, Kamal Derwish, was killed in November in Yemen when an unmanned CIA drone launched a missile at a vehicle occupied by a top Al Qaeda operative.