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Profile: Jaber Elbaneh
Jaber Elbaneh was a participant or observer in the following events:
The Lackawanna Six. Top row, from left: Faysal Galab, Mukhtar al-Bakri, and Sahim Alwan. Bottom row, from left: Yahya Goba, Shafel Mosed, and Yaseinn Taher. [Source: Associated Press]A group of seven men in Lackawanna, near Buffalo, New York, are influenced by religious discussions with two al-Qaeda operatives, Kamal Derwish and Juma al-Dosari. The seven US citizens—Yaseinn Taher, Yahya Goba, Shafel Mosed, Mukhtar al-Bakri, Sahim Alwan, Faysal Galab, and Jaber Elbaneh—leave for jihad training in Afghanistan. They tell friends they are merely going to Pakistan for religious instruction. Escorted by Derwish, the men travel separately and attend a six-week long weapons course at the Al Farooq camp. Some of them meet Osama bin Laden in Kandahar and they all hear him give a speech (see (June 2001)). However, most of them apparently think they are in over their heads and find excuses to cut their basic training course short and return home. The six who return show little to no evidence of any al-Qaeda plotting in the following months. Jaber Elbaneh, however, becomes committed and stays overseas with al-Qaeda. The six who return will later be arrested and dubbed an al-Qaeda cell known as the “Lackawanna Six” (see September 13, 2002). [PBS Frontline, 10/16/2003]
Entity Tags: Yaseinn Taher, Al Farooq training camp, Shafel Mosed, Yahya Goba, Osama bin Laden, Faysal Galab, Jaber Elbaneh, Juma al-Dosari, Sahim Alwan, Mukhtar al-Bakri, Kamal Derwish
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
A group of seven Yemeni-Americans from Lackawanna, New York, go to train in Afghanistan (see April-August 2001). Just two days after some of them have arrived, two of the seven—Sahim Alwan and Jaber Elbaneh, plus their mentor Kamal Derwish, briefly meet Osama bin Laden in a small group setting. One of the men asks bin Laden about a rumor that something big is about to happen. Bin Laden responds: “They’re threatening us. And we’re threatening them. But there are brothers willing to carry their souls in their hands.” [Temple-Raston, 2007, pp. 107-108] A couple of weeks later, the seven Lackawanna men and Derwish begin training at the Al Farooq training camp near Kandahar. One day, bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri come to their camp and bin Laden gives a speech in Arabic to the hundreds of trainees there. The crowd is told the speech is being videotaped. In his 20-minute speech, he discusses the merger between al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad. At the end, he calls on the gathering to pray for the 40 operatives who are en route for a very important mission. He drops hints about suicide operations against the US and Israel. One of the seven men, Yaseinn Taher, speaks Arabic well enough to understand the speech, and explains the gist of it to the other six. The Lackawanna men also sense a mood in the camp that something big is going to happen soon. For instance, the camp is regularly conducting evacuation drills in anticipation of the US bombing it. [Temple-Raston, 2007, pp. 117-120] One by one, all the members of the group except for Jaber Elbaneh drop out and go home before their basic training course is done. They will later be known as the “Lackawanna Six.” But none of the six tell any US authorities what they learned when they get back to the US before 9/11. Some of the six, such as Taher and Alwan, will later say that on the morning of 9/11 they realize the attack they are watching on television is what bin Laden was talking about when he discussed the 40 men on a suicide mission. [Temple-Raston, 2007, pp. 136-138]
Sahim Alwan. [Source: PBS]The FBI’s Buffalo, New York, field office receives an anonymous, handwritten letter from someone in the Yemeni community of Lackawanna, near Buffalo. The letter says that a group has traveled to “meet bin Laden and stay in his camp for training.” The person who wrote it adds, “I can not give you my name because I fear for my life.” It says that “two terrorists” have been recruiting in Lackawanna, and that eight men have gone to train in Afghanistan, and four more are planning to go later. It gives the names of the men. In fact, all eight of the men named are currently in an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. This group will later be dubbed the “Lackawanna Six,” for the six of them that eventually return to the US (see September 13, 2002). The letter is assigned to FBI agent Edward Needham, the only Buffalo agent at this time working on counterterrorism. He runs the names through criminal databases and finds that many of them have criminal records for drug dealing and cigarette smuggling. He is skeptical that drug dealers would fight for al-Qaeda, but he sends the letter up the chain of command and formally opens an investigation on June 15. Three of them—Faysal Galab, Shafel Mosed, and Yaseinn Taher—are stopped on June 27 when they arrive in New York on a flight back from Pakistan, because Needham put their names on an FBI watch list. But they are merely questioned for two hours and released. He keeps occasional tabs on the men as they return from Afghanistan over the next months, but does not learn they actually were in an al-Qaeda training camp until after 9/11. [PBS Frontline, 10/16/2003; Temple-Raston, 2007, pp. 124-125, 129]
Jaber Elbaneh. [Source: Yahya Arhab / EPA / Corbi]Twenty-three suspected al-Qaeda operatives break out of a high-security prison in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a. Escapees include Jamal al-Badawi, wanted for a role in the bombing of the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000), and Jaber Elbaneh, a US citizen believed to be linked to the alleged al-Qaeda sleeper cell in Lackawanna, New York (see April-August 2001). The men allegedly tunnel their way from the prison to the bathroom of a neighboring mosque. However, the New York Times will later comment: “[T]hat account is viewed with great skepticism, both in the United States and in Yemen. Many in Yemen say the escape could not have taken place without assistance, whether from corrupt guards or through a higher-level plan.” [New York Times, 3/1/2008] The prison is located in the basement of the Political Security Organization (PSO), Yemen’s equivalent of the FBI. Several days later, a cable sent from the US embassy in Yemen notes “the lack of obvious security measures on the streets,” and concludes, “One thing is certain: PSO insiders must have been involved.” Newsweek comments: “[P]rivately, US officials say the plotters must have had serious—possibly high-level—help at the Political [Security Organization].…. [T]he head of the PSO, Ali Mutahar al-Qamish, is said to be under suspicion, according to two US officials.” [Newsweek, 2/13/2006] Al-Badawi and nine others escaped a Yemeni prison in 2003 and then were recaptured one year later (see April 11, 2003-March 2004). Al-Badawi and Elbaneh turn themselves in to the Yemeni government in 2007 and then are freed (see October 17-29, 2007 and February 23, 2008).
Jaber Elbaneh’s appearance in court. [Source: Associated Press / Mohammed al-Qadhi.]Jaber Elbaneh, an Islamist militant wanted by the US, comes out of hiding to appear in court in Yemen, but is not arrested. Elbaneh, a US citizen and whose family came from Yemen, had lived in Lackawanna, New York, before the 9/11 attacks. He went to Afghanistan to train at an al-Qaeda training camp along with about six other men from Lackawanna, but while the others dropped out and returned to the US, Elbaneh never returned (see April-August 2001). He moved to Yemen. The Yemeni government says he also helped plan the 2002 attack on the oil tanker Limburg off Yemen’s coast (see October 6, 2002). He was arrested there in 2004 after being charged in the US for attending the training camp. He was sentenced to ten years in prison, but in February 2006, he and 22 other suspected al-Qaeda operatives escaped from a high-security Yemeni prison (see February 3, 2006). The US offered $5 million for information leading to his arrest. Elbaneh was then implicated in a September 2006 bombing in Yemen that took place several days before national elections (see September 15, 2006). Some suggest the bombers may have colluded with the government to use the bombing to successfully help Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh win reelection. Elbaneh was convicted, but allowed to stay at home under a loose form of house arrest. Given the outstanding $5 million reward for him, Elbaneh appears to surprise everyone by appearing in court where his conviction in the 2006 bombing was being appealed. Furthermore, he gives a speech proclaiming his innocence. He says that after his prison escape, he surrendered directly to President Saleh in May 2007, who absolved him of any jail time. The New York Times comments: “Perhaps the greatest mystery surrounding [Elbaneh] is his decision to appear in court… The Yemeni government has generally instructed the jihadists with whom it arranges amnesty to avoid the news media and keep low profiles. But Mr. Elbaneh deliberately spoke out in a public setting, with journalists present, and named the president in his brief tirade.” [Reuters, 2/27/2008; New York Times, 3/1/2008]
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