U.S. judge sentences al-Qaida trainee to prison

Last of `Lackawanna Six' gets 9 1/2 -year term for backing terrorist group

December 18, 2003|By John J. Goldman | John J. Goldman,LOS ANGELES TIMES

NEW YORK - A federal judge yesterday sentenced Sahim Alwan, the last of the "Lackawanna Six" defendants who admitted attending an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan, to 9 1/2 years in prison for supporting a foreign terrorist organization.

Alwan, 31, the oldest of the Yemeni-American men who traveled from upstate New York to the al-Farooq camp in spring 2001, apologized to the court and said that he was ready to accept full responsibility for his actions.

At the camp, the group studied weapons, explosives and tactics and heard a speech by Osama bin Laden in which he reportedly attacked Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United States.

During the speech, which took place before the Sept. 11 attacks, al-Qaida's leader referred to men on a mission to attack America.

Court papers charged that Alwan met twice with bin Laden and that, after the six Americans returned home to Lackawanna, Alwan organized a cover-up of the trip.

The Bush administration charged that the six men were members of a sleeper cell, but no evidence was presented that they planned or participated in an act of terrorism.

The proceeding yesterday before Judge William M. Skretny in U.S. District Court in Buffalo followed plea agreements in which the six defendants provided information in return for reduced sentences.

Government lawyers said the investigation was continuing, with the focus on the group's recruiters and its financial arrangements.

Kamal Derwish - who was active in the Lackawanna Muslim community, and helped recruit the men and make arrangements for the trip - was killed in Yemen in November last year when a car in which he was riding with six other men was struck by a CIA missile fired from a Predator drone aircraft.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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