Lakawanna  Cell was an Al Qaeda cell that operated in the small town Lakawanna, south of Buffalo, New York, USA from summer 2000 to summer 2001, prior to The 9/11 attack.

In Buffalo area lives a community of about 3.000 Muslim Yemenis, most of them USA citizens. The main activity of Lakawanna  Cell was to recruit young activists in USA to Al Qaeda.

The cell was gathered after Kamal Derwish, a native Lakawanna from Yemeni descent, was deported from Saudi Arabia for alleged extremist activities and came back to his hometown in 1998.  Kamal Derwish became involved in Lakawanna’s Muslim community. He soon began holding gatherings at his apartment for small groups of young Muslims after evening prayers. These gatherings became later the breeding ground for Lakawanna  Cell. It is assumed that Kamal Derwish recruited over 20 young Muslims who lived in the state of New York, USA to the rank of Al Qaeda.

In 04/2001 Kamal Derwish, with Jaber Elbaneh, left USA for training in Al Qaeda’s Al Farook camp, near Kandahar, in southeast Afghanistan. After the basic arrangement the other associates of the cell: Shafal Mosed , 22, Mukhtar al-Bakri ,20, Faysal Galab, 20,  and Yasein Taher ,22, active player in the Lakawanna soccer team, Sahim Alwan,25,  a former soccer player in the team and Yahya Goba, 24, joined them in Afghanistan. They arrived to Afghanistan in two groups, one in late 04/2001 and the second in mid 05/2001.

While the Lakawanna  Cell members were in training in Afghanistan the FBI got an anonymous letter, probably from a member of the Lackawanna Yemeni community. The letter said that “terrorists” had come to Lackawanna “for recruiting the Yemenite youth” and that a group of men had gone to train with Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan”.

The six Lakawanna  Cell members returned to USA after few months in the summer of 2001, before The 9/11, but kept their visit in Afghanistan secret.

Only after the arrest of Juma al-Dosari in Pakistan, in 12/2001, and his interrogations in Guantanamo, the USA authority began to reveal the full extent of Lakawanna  Cell activity and the six members who were in Afghanistan were arrested on 09/2002. Mukhtar al-Bakri was arrested in Bahrain the day after his wedding and interrogated there by U.S. agents on 09/11/2002 before extradition to USA.  In police searches in the suspects’ properties no weapons, Islamic incitement propaganda or something to prove that the suspects intended or planned a violent act in or against the USA were found..  

Only Sahim Alwan, who cooperated with the authority and Mukhtar al-Bakri admitted to have military training in Afghanistan, the rest denied the accusations.

On 01/10/2003 Faysal Galab pleaded guilty to lesser charges, admitting he’d had transactions with Al Qaeda – he paid for a uniform, stood guard duty at the camp, and received the aforementioned training.

All six pleaded in 05/2003 guilty in court to terrorism related charges. Yahya Goba and Mukhtar al-Bakri received ten-year prison sentences. Yaseinn Taher and Shafal Mosed received eight-year prison sentences. Sahim Alwan received a nine and a half year sentence. All sentences were for single counts of “providing support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization”. ( see – Lakawanna six )

Summery ;

All evidence suggests that the Lakawanna six were not devoted terrorists but more of reckless adventurers looking for excitement. The sentence is, probably, the outcome of the public and political mood after The 9/11.  ( see – Lakawanna six )

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