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Faysal Galab is seen in this FBI handout photo Sept 17, 2002. The first of the "Lackawanna Six" to be released from prison, Galab was transferred from the Terre Haute Federal Correctional Complex in Indiana to a Detroit halfway house on April 29.
Faysal Galab, who belonged to a group called the Lackwanna Six — which authorities say was an al-Qaida cell — was released from prison late last month after serving five years of a seven-year sentence.
Galab was one of six young men from the Yemeni-American community of Lackawanna, on the shores of Lake Erie just outside of Buffalo, N.Y., who traveled to Afghanistan in 2001 to attend an al-Qaida training camp called al-Farooq. During their time at the camp, the men shot weapons, learned to make bombs and met with Osama bin Laden, according to their plea agreements. Then nearly all of them returned home to resume ordinary, middle-class lives, driving taxis, working at delis and pumping gas.
When the men were arrested in 2002, some U.S. intelligence officials said they were members of an al-Qaida-trained sleeper cell. Their attorneys said the men did attend the camp but had no intention of attacking America. Galab was the first of the men to take a plea agreement in the case, and he is now the first to be released from prison. He was transferred from the Terre Haute Federal Correctional Complex in Indiana to a Detroit halfway house on April 29.
The young men were unlikely terrorism suspects. Galab, who worked as a used-car salesman, was born in Lackawanna and graduated from the local high school. He married a local girl and had three children. He wasn't particularly religious before he decided to join his friends on a trip to Afghanistan.
The Lackawanna Six has been a marquee case for the Bush administration. It has been held up as proof that America's war on terrorism is working. When officials talk about successful terrorism arrests, the Lackawanna case always tops that list.
The FBI learned about the Lackawanna Six by sheer luck — they received an anonymous letter from someone in Lackawanna who knew the six men had gone to Afghanistan to train. The FBI began tracking the men from the moment they returned, just months before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The agency watched them for a year, hoping to catch them planning a terrorist act. Soon after the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, the FBI arrested Galab and five of his friends and charged them with material support of a terrorist organization. Law enforcement officials and the men's attorneys say the Lackawanna Six never planned anything against the United States. Nevertheless, the FBI said the men were a threat to national security, reasoning that anyone who had trained with al-Qaida was a threat to this country.
Since their arrest, the men have provided information about their recruitment and al-Qaida camps. They pleaded guilty to helping a terrorist organization, among other things, and received prison sentences ranging from seven to 10 years. Galab received a seven-year term, the lightest sentence of the group.
One of the Lackawanna members, Jaber Elbaneh, never came back to the United States after his training in Afghanistan. He is on the FBI's most wanted list and is thought to be in Yemen.