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Jewish World Review Oct. 16, 2003 / 20 Tishrei, 5764

Debra J. Saunders

Debra J. Saunders
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Ah, the misunderstood terrorist — our new victim class | Sunday's New York Times story on six Yemeni Americans from Lackawanna, N.Y., who attended an Al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan in May and June of 2001 featured the caveat that the Lackawanna Six presented "a profoundly ambiguous threat."

Forget that the six men pleaded guilty to providing material support to Al Qaeda.

The Lackawanna Six are victims now. As one of the six, Sahim Alwan, told the newspaper, he thought his trek to Afghanistan's Al Farooq terrorist training camp was part of a "religious quest." He has become the Lackawanna Six's poster boy because he left Al Farooq early.

Forget that he lied repeatedly to law enforcement agents after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Alwan admits he knew there would be military training at Al Farooq. As the paper reported, Alwan lied to his wife and others about the weeks-long sojourn. The man who recruited Alwan had praised the 2000 Qaeda attack that killed 17 servicemen on the U.S. destroyer Cole.

Alwan contended that he had no idea Osama bin Laden was attached to the camp, even though three other Lackawanna recruits admitted otherwise. One of the Lackawanna trainees never returned — and he's the one who told Alwan he wanted to die a "martyr."

The Times, to its credit, laid out the above facts. But then, the paper chose to focus on the fact that there's no proof the Lackawanna boys were about to bomb their fellow Americans, hence the "ambiguous threat."

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Many of these men were married with children. They cared about the Buffalo Bills. The story quoted a former FBI agent who interrogated Muktar al-Bakri and described him as "an all-American kid who loves so much what he has in America and, for some reason, somehow got involved in all this."


Even if you posit that the six men might have been in denial when they returned from terrorist-training camp, somehow you're still supposed to believe that they loved this country — while failing to give information to authorities after thousands of people died on Sept. 11.

You're supposed to believe that the Lackawanna Six loved this country even though they somehow failed to provide information that might have helped U.S. troops risking their lives in the war in Afghanistan.

Instead of exploring questions about the behavior of the Lackawanna Six, the story focused on quotes in which President Bush, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice framed the arrests of the Lackawanna men as a victory in the war on terrorism. There were paragraphs on the big question: whether it was accurate to term the Lackawanna Six as a "sleeper cell."

Cell or not, the picture is not flattering for Alwan and company.

On Sept. 11, Alwan phoned an FBI agent who had questioned him weeks before about his trip to Al Farooq. Alwan had lied before, and he lied again. As families learned that their loved ones were among the dead, Alwan offered his assistance to help act as the agent's "eyes and ears," but for months, he continued to lie. "I was afraid for myself," Alwan explained from prison.

Apologists criticize the FBI. They harp on the word "cell." They devise excuses for men who went abroad to learn how to kill civilians. They repeat the lie that there was a spiritual element to the training. (Al Bakri's attorney compared the Al Farooq experience to a Mormon mission.)

As a frustrated intelligence official sighed, "Ah, the misunderstood terrorist.'' Just what America needs — a new victim class.

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© 2003, Creators Syndicate