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Buffalo defendants appeal bail decision

A sketch of the defendants appearing in court on Monday.
A sketch of the defendants appearing in court on Monday.

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BUFFALO, New York (CNN) -- Five of the six upstate New York men accused of forming an al Qaeda cell inside the United States appeared in federal court Monday to appeal a judge's ruling denying them bail.

The defendants' attorneys argued before U.S. District Judge William Skretny, who put off a written ruling until a later date. None of the defendants spoke in court, while each of their attorneys and prosecutors responded to questions from the judge for four-and-a-half hours.

The men -- all Muslims of Yemeni descent who lived in the city of Lackawanna, next to Buffalo -- were indicted last month for providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization, al Qaeda, the Islamic militant group behind the September 11 terrorist attacks on America and numerous other attacks around the world.

The Lackawanna group allegedly trained at the defunct al Farooq terrorist camp near Kandahar, Afghanistan, in the summer of 2001. They were taken into custody in mid-September after being under surveillance for a year.

Defense attorneys said they reiterated their view that prosecutors have failed to provide clear evidence that the five detained men are a serious risk of flight or a danger to the community.

"There was no evidence that any of them took a pledge to al Qaeda," said Joseph Latona, who represents defendant Faysal Galab, 26.

In a motion prior to Monday's hearing, defense attorneys said, "No evidence was offered that al Qaeda manuals, code books, explosive devices, or the like were found in any of the defendants' homes."

Assistant U.S. Attorney William Hochel said while prosecutors did not necessarily consider the Lackawanna group a "sleeper" cell waiting for orders, that al Qaeda had found ways to activate such individuals it trained before, defense attorneys said. The FBI has previously said it never determined any specific attack plans.

The government contends the men's alleged presence for up to six weeks at the camp constitutes material support for terrorism. For the sake of the bail argument, the attorneys on both sides agreed that Judge Skretny could approach the question of their danger to the community as if the defendants had attended the terror camp, which most of them deny.

"Just because they attended a camp doesn't mean they intended to commit any harm to anyone," said Rod Personious, who represents defendant Yasein Taher, 25.

U.S. Magistrate Kenneth Schroeder ruled on Oct. 8 that Taher, Galab, and three of the other men should remain incarcerated -- Yahya Goba, 25; Shafel Mosed, 24; Mukthtar al-Bakri, 22, -- saying, "If the defendants are or have become disciples of al Qaeda and believers in self-destruction as a legitimate means of causing harm to others, there are no conditions that could be imposed that would deter such act of self-destruction, other than detention."

Schroeder granted bail to defendant Sahim Alwan, 30, the eldest of the group, and the only one of the alleged recruits who fled the camp and "apparently disavowed or disclaimed any continued participation in the activities of al Qaeda."

Nine weeks later, Alwan's family is still raising the collateral for his $600,000 bond. His attorney, James Harrington, said the government is still evaluating some property offered as collateral.

Alwan's bail restrictions, which will amount to virtual house arrest, will include electronic monitoring by a global positioning system, wiretapped phones, and no access to a computer or fax.

Alwan and al-Bakri allegedly admitted attending the camps, according to the government's complaint. Defense attorneys said they would ask the court to allow them to question the FBI agents who took those incriminating statements.

An American citizen regarded as the recruiter of the alleged cell was among six people killed during a CIA operation in Yemen last month. Ahmed Hijazi -- also known as Kamal Derwish -- was killed by a Hellfire missile in an unmanned Predator aircraft that targeted a planner of the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 American sailors. Derwish was one of two unindicted conspirators in the case.

An eighth alleged cell member is Jaber Elbaneh, also believed to be in Yemen. Three of his relatives were charged earlier this month with running an illegal wire transfer business that allegedly sent nearly $500,000 to Yemen in the past few months.

-- From CNN's Phil Hirschkorn and Susan Candiotti



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