3rd of N.Y. men pleads guilty to aiding terror

6 are accused of attending an al-Qaida training camp

March 26, 2003|By Richard A. Serrano | Richard A. Serrano,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

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

The plea in Buffalo, N.Y., by Yahya Goba, 26, an unemployed language and religion teacher, means that half the defendants have admitted attending the camp in spring 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 will enter guilty pleas 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. "There is nothing more scheduled at this time. But that may change."

In yesterday's plea agreement, Goba agreed to cooperate with the government in its prosecution against the remaining three, should they stand trial in Buffalo. In return, he will receive a 10-year prison sentence.

Had he been convicted by a jury, Goba could have received up to 15 years. He is scheduled to be sentenced in July.

When he was first arrested, Goba told authorities he had been out of work since May 2000, was broke and $6,000 in debt.

Authorities searched his home in Lackawanna, a Buffalo suburb, 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 that they said showed how the trip was planned and carried out.

In April 2001, officials said, two unidentified men recruited the group of Yemeni-Americans from Lackawanna, 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 Middle East in May, and for a time stayed at a residence in Pakistan that prosecutors said was the home of a man "associated with the Taliban."

Goba and the Lackawanna group then went to the Al Farooq camp, where he was trained on a number of firearms and a propelled grenade launcher; they attended a speech by the al-Qaida leader.

"Bin Laden spoke about the alliance of al-Qaida 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.

Richard A. Serrano writes for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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