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3 Accused of al-Qaida Link Out on Bail

December 19, 2002

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) _ Three relatives of a man accused of belonging to an al-Qaida terror cell in the Buffalo suburb of Lackawanna were freed on bail Wednesday, a day after being charged with operating an illegal money transferring business.

Investigators have been unable to trace any of the money to terrorist activities, said U.S. Attorney Michael Battle.

U.S. District Judge Hugh Scott agreed to the prosecution’s request to set bail for civic leader Mohamed Albanna, 51, and his nephew, Ali Albanna, 29, at $100,000 each. Albanna’s brother, Ali Elbaneh, 52, was released on $25,000 bail.

All three men have pleaded innocent. If convicted, they face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

``I am not guilty,″ said Albanna, who was freed within an hour of bail being set. ``I have confidence and faith and we’ll come through.″

Asked how he was feeling, he said, ``Excellent. I want to go home.″

Albanna, a leader in the area’s Yemeni community and an uncle of a man still being hunted by U.S. authorities, was seized by Customs and Drug Enforcement Administration agents in the doorway of his Buffalo store, the Queen City Cigarettes and Candy Co.

The three were indicted by a federal grand jury on a charge they sent more than $480,000 to Yemen without a license to operate a money transferring business, which is required by state law. Prosecutors said the business was not registered with the U.S. Department of Treasury as required by federal law.

Prosecutor Timothy Lynch said the men sent the money out of the country between October and December. He said Mohamed Albanna has been transferring money illegally for two to three years.

During a series of raids Tuesday, $130,000 was confiscated from Mohamed Albanna’s bank account and another $51,000 from his cigarette and candy business.

Jaber Elbaneh, an alleged member of the Lackawanna cell, was last reported at large in Yemen, according to U.S. officials. He is believed to be Mohamed Albanna’s nephew.

Six other men from Lackawanna, all Yemeni-American men in their 20s, were arrested in September and charged with providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization. Prosecutors say they visited an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan in spring 2001 attended by Osama bin Laden.

Mohamed Albanna has been the face of the Lackawanna Yemeni community and an outspoken advocate for the men since they were arrested in September. He has attended every hearing and proclaimed their innocence.

``It’s very disappointing to me. The gentleman has portrayed himself on local TV shows and around the nation as a community activist,″ Lackawanna Mayor John Kuryak said hours before Albanna’s arrest.

The alleged leader of the Lackawanna cell, Yemeni-American Kamal Derwish, was believed killed in a CIA airstrike on Nov. 3 in Yemen, U.S. officials have said.

The six men now in custody could get up to 15 years in prison if convicted under a 1996 law that prohibits giving support to foreign terrorist organizations.

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