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Arraignment of Five Men Arrested in Buffalo Wraps Up

Aired September 14, 2002 - 16:16   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Good afternoon, I'm Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN Headquarters in Atlanta. This breaking news, the arraignment has just wrapped up in Buffalo, New York involving five men who were arrested because of their alleged involvement and training with al Qaeda operatives. Our Susan Candiotti was at the Federal District Court and she has the latest. What are the charges, Susan?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, this was a two-hour-long hearing where for the very first time the five men who were arrested on Friday here in the Buffalo area learned what they are being charged with, and the charges are one count each of providing material support to the al Qaeda terrorist network.

It is alleged by the government that all five men went to an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan last year, in 2001, that it was the training camp attended by the so-called American Taliban John Walker Lindh according to the government. And then at some point, Osama bin Laden himself spoke to these gentlemen and also that they received weapons training.

Now, according to the government, the material support that these men are alleged to have provided is the equivalent of, in effect, using their body, their person, their being to provide support to the al Qaeda terrorist activities and that, the government says, would be in violation of federal law.

These men were arrested on Friday night and this day they were led into the courthouse and into the courtroom in handcuffs and were seated in a jury box. This hearing took so long, for two hours, because at this time the court ultimately entered not guilty pleas at this stage of the proceedings on behalf of all of the defendants and then they went through a very long, laborious process of determining who could and who could not afford their own lawyer.

In this case, only one, possibly two appears to be able to hire their own lawyer. All the others will be having court-appointed attorneys or be represented by the public defender's office. At that point, none of the defendants really spoke before the court addressing the charges themselves, only answering questions about their own financial situation.

Finally, it was decided at the end of this long hearing that these gentlemen would be held without bond until at the very least a hearing next Wednesday, September the 18th, when they will appear again in court and the government will be asked to provide some evidence as to why the men should be held without bond, and then there may be another hearing scheduled at that time but no so far.

So, in the courtroom we have these men who listened attentively to what was going on, and also in the courtroom there were some family members present as well as members of the Muslim community who were listening very closely to what was said.

All of these people so far in the community that we have spoken with, including the relatives, say that it's not possible and, in fact, some said not capable of being guilty of any of these charges. And so, this will be a very long process but until the next time we meet in court, next Wednesday, they will be held without bond -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Now, Susan, not long ago the Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson said that it was through the cooperation of members in the Muslim community which helped lead to the arrests of these men who, according to that complaint, all appear to be between the ages of 23 and 29, is that right?

CANDIOTTI: That's correct, don't have the precise age range, but yes they appear to be young men in their 20s. One of them is employed. Another is a student and all the rest are unemployed. Now indeed what you point out is quite right and we have spoken with ranking members, representatives of the Muslim community in Lackawanna, New York, where all of these men live very close to each other.

Most all of them, as best we can tell, attended a mosque. There is only one mosque in that community, very well known, and in fact one of the leaders of the American-Muslim chapter told us here, counsel told us that indeed there were members of the Muslim community themselves who provided information about suspicious activities to the FBI that was used as part of the government's case, something of course acknowledged by the federal government, by the FBI this day.

WHITFIELD: All right, Susan Candiotti from Buffalo, I appreciate it very much. So once again, these five men who were arrested in the Lackawanna suburb just outside of Buffalo, New York yesterday were arraigned today. The charges are as follows: Conspiring to provide material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization.

These five suspects' ages ranging between 23 and 29; they are expected to be back in court because right now they're being held without bond, back in court scheduled on Wednesday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN Headquarters in Atlanta.

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