In September federal police incarcerated in nearby Buffalo, New York, Sahim Alwan, 29; Faysal Galab, 26; Yasein Taher, 24; Mukhtar al-Bakir, 22; Shafel Mosed, 24; and Yahya Goba, 25.
At an October 8 bail hearing, attended by supporters of those arrested, U.S. magistrate judge Kenneth Schroeder denied bail to all but one individual--Sahib Alwan. His bail was set at $600,000 and he is required to stay at home where all his movements will be monitored by a satellite tracking system.
Alwan is not allowed to use cell phones or computers, and is required to wear an electronic ankle bracelet.
Khalid Qazi, president of the Western New York chapter of the America Muslim Council, said Alwan’s so-called release was in fact "house arrest. He’s released, but he’s not free."
The Joint Terrorism Task Force of Western New York and the U.S. Justice Department admit they have no knowledge of any criminal act carried out by any of the six men.
The only "evidence" they present is that these individuals traveled to Pakistan and two of them went to Afghanistan as well.
The Yemeni community here of some 2,000 is part of a working-class section of Lackawanna. Many originally came here to the giant Bethlehem Steel mill, which prior to closing more than a decade ago employed thousands of workers.
"I don’t agree with what the government is doing," commented Ivette Ramirez. "Just because of what happened in New York City a year ago, they arrest them. The FBI found letters and computers. What does that have to do with terrorism? It is ridiculous!" She added, "I see the cops and media here constantly harassing people, especially at the Yemenite Benevolent Association nearby."
Increased cop surveillance
A number of people mentioned the increased police presence in the community, including plainclothes cops in parked cars. During our visit here, three helicopters were flying overhead. Residents told us this was part of increased cop surveillance of the area, and that some trees were cut down to make people on the ground more visible from the helicopters.
Gwen Moore pointed out that there had been several raids of local Yemeni-owned stores and that the FBI and police are constantly in the neighborhood in both marked and unmarked cars. "The police are checking everything. You can’t even breathe out here without looking at a policeman’s face. We’re sick of it!"
Commenting on Washington’s escalating war moves in the Mideast, a young woman of Yemeni descent said, "No one wants a war in Iraq. The outcome is no good for anyone. The media is used for war propaganda." As for the six who were jailed, she said, "There is no evidence. The judge is now searching for evidence."
When asked her opinion on the case, Amia White commented, "I think they should be released." White described how a carload had driven through the Yemeni community for several days following the arrests, blaring the national anthem and other music out of car speakers, yelling things like "God Bless America" and waving U.S. flags, causing some families to keep their children indoors. "I asked myself: are the police going to stop them? But they didn’t."
Some others living in the community thought the arrests were justified. When questioned whether it shouldn’t be a right to travel anywhere without being suspected of terrorist activity, including to countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan, Terry Williams replied, "they could have gone anywhere. They shouldn’t have been over there. I see what they did as treason." Others expressed the view that "if they arrested them, they must have done something."
Edward Robinson, 19, said he knew the six accused men from school. "We could be sitting here and they could come in here and raid and arrest everyone. If they are guilty," he said, referring to the six men, "I’m guilty because I knew them."
A cousin of two of the arrested men said that jail conditions were better when all six of the men were together. He explained how they had been separated into three different prison facilities in Niagara Falls, Batavia, and Buffalo.
In another development, on October 11 Hussein Mohamed-Ahmed Saeed, a 28-year-old Yemeni store clerk, pleaded guilty in U.S. District court to failure to fill out a government-required report when moving cash from the United States to Yemen. Saeed explained to the judge that he sometimes takes money from Buffalo to Yemen to support his wife and children still living in Yemen.
The Buffalo News reported that one of the prosecutors is a member of the Joint Terrorism Task Force of Western New York. The paper added that federal agents have been investigating local food shops owned by Arab-Americans whose operators have been sending money to Yemen, trying to develop some connection that money is being funneled to al Qaeda.
Arrin Hawkins is the Socialist Workers candidate for lieutenant governor of New York. Seth Dellinger contributed to this article.
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