Skip to comments.Sought-after al Quaida suspect leaves traces in Lackawanna
Posted on 09/22/2002 10:51:03 AM PDT by ganesha
Sought-after al-Qaida suspect leaves traces in Lackawanna By LOU MICHEL and JERRY ZREMSKI News Staff Reporters 9/22/2002
Kamal Derwish cut a mysterious figure on his travels through Lackawanna. People remember little about the plump, pious visitor from the Middle East who prayed with young people in the local mosque.
And he's more mysterious than ever, now that he's believed to be on the run in Yemen, a fugitive from U.S. justice and alleged to be the ringleader of what federal officials describe as al-Qaida's "Buffalo cell."
Derwish, a 29-year-old Buffalo native of Yemeni descent, served as the link between the Lackawanna men and Osama bin Laden's terrorist headquarters, according to federal authorities. They privately call Derwish a hard-core Muslim fundamentalist capable of planning or executing some sort of terrorist plot - and hoping to involve the Lackawanna men in it.
They also say Derwish traveled to Bosnia to fight on behalf of Muslims struggling under Serb domination nearly a decade ago.
"I don't think he's top 20 al-Qaida, but neither were any of the guys who flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon," said one government source, who asked not to be identified. "Just because you're not in the top tier of leadership, that doesn't mean you're not dangerous. You could be the muscle."
Another source said Derwish is suspected of planning some sort of support role for the eight members of the "Buffalo cell, which would perhaps aid other al-Qaida cells in bringing terror back to America.
That source said Derwish wanted to organize the Lackawanna men into a "multiple-use cell," which might have engaged in spying, fund raising or technical assistance for an al-Qaida plot.
Was last seen 1 year ago
The depth of the government's concern about Derwish can be seen in the extraordinary secrecy surrounding him.
Prosecutors refuse to discuss him.
"You mention that name to the prosecutors, and they won't even acknowledge that the person exists," said Rodney Personius, an attorney for Yasein A. Taher, one of the Lackawanna suspects.
Derwish lived off and on in Lackawanna in recent years, and was most recently seen here a year ago. That's when he lived on Holland Avenue with an aunt. Like the other seven members of the "Buffalo cell," he was a registered Democrat.
Meanwhile, members of Lackawanna's large Yemeni community speak of Derwish in respectful tones, without offering much detail on the years he spent in Western New York. They call him a burly, bearded fellow who wore his devotion on his sleeve.
"He never posed any threats or problems to anybody, whether Muslim or non-Muslim," said Mohamed Saleh, a member of the Lackawanna Islamic Mosque's board of directors.
Moved between countries
Kamal Derwish was born in Children's Hospital in Buffalo and spent his early years in Lackawanna. Derwish's aunt, Fatima Alderwish of Lackawanna, said Derwish left the country while still a young boy when his father, Ahmed, moved the family to Saudi Arabia in search of work.
Ahmed Derwish had immigrated here from his impoverished home in Yemen in the late 1950s, following in his brother Syed's footsteps.
Syed Derwish came to Lackawanna first in 1957 and got a job at Bethlehem Steel, Fatima Alderwish said of her husband. Ahmed came and worked in different states and eventually was hired at Bethlehem Steel as well.
But Ahmed Derwish was laid off sometime in the 1970s and decided to try his luck in Saudi Arabia, the Holland Avenue woman said.
There, tragedy struck.
"Ahmed was in Saudi for about 21/2 to three years and decided he would come back to the United States, and a few days before he was to return, he was killed in a car accident," the woman said of her brother-in-law.
The young Derwish stayed in Saudia Arabia with his mother, Asma, who the aunt said is also of Yemeni heritage, and his two sisters and three brothers.
Kamal Derwish moved to Sana, Yemen, as a young man and over time became an extraordinarily devout Muslim.
Later in the 1990s, he began paying occasional visits to friends and family in Lackawanna, taking a job at one point at a small local plastics factory.
In 1998, he came to town and stayed with his aunt and uncle. His aunt said he was a bachelor at the time.
Then, about two years ago, Kamal returned to Lackawanna with his pregnant wife, who had a baby boy at Mercy Hospital. After the boy was born, Derwish stayed four months and left, his aunt said.
"He is a nice guy. He is quiet," Alderwish said.
She said that the last she knew, her nephew had returned to Yemen, where his wife gave birth to a daughter.
"Nothing weird about him'
But another Holland Avenue resident said he saw Derwish in 2001, probably before the Sept. 11 attacks.
"I used to see Kamal around," said Saleh Elbaneh, 21, a younger brother of one of the men accused of belonging to the Lackawanna al-Qaida sleeper cell. "He was normal. There was nothing weird about him. I'd see him at the mosque. He went to the mosque all the time. He'd be there praying."
Indeed, if Lackawanna residents remember Derwish for anything, it's his devotion to Allah. He used to lead prayer groups in the local mosque, and he was never shy about sharing his religious opinions.
A Holland Avenue deli owner, a few doors away from where Derwish stayed with his aunt and uncle, said Derwish objected to his selling snacks that contained pork, which is banned under Islam.
"I didn't care what he thought," said the Yemeni store owner, who declined to give his name. "The door to my store opens for everyone."
Discussed faith with youths
Derwish reached out to young people at the Lackawanna Islamic Mosque to discuss the faith, according to Mohamed Albanna, vice president of the American Muslim Council in Buffalo Niagara.
His fluency in English and Arabic, Albanna said, put Derwish in a position where he could effectively perform his outreach work.
"He was involved with the youth, 16 and older, and he had a command of both languages, but I don't know if he had any influence on the young people, Albanna said.
Federal authorities think he had plenty of influence on the young Lackawanna men who were arrested last weekend and charged with being part of the suspected sleeper cell. That's why they're looking for him now in Yemen, a dirt-poor country of 18 million at the foot of the Arabian peninsula.
He's not the only one they're looking for there. In fact, U.S. Special Forces and the CIA have been gathering forces in recent weeks in Djibouti, the African nation across the Red Sea from Yemen, preparing for possible moves against al-Qaida forces in Yemen.
So far, the United States has counted on Yemeni authorities to track down suspected terrorists, but such efforts haven't been very successful.
"In Yemen we're still at an early stage," Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said in a recent interview with the Associated Press. "We're hopeful that (the Yemeni authorities) will become more energetic in pursuing some very dangerous people whom we know are in remote parts of that country."
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And on another point, I thought it was Ithaca that was the 'city of evil'. "Lackawanna, City of Evil" just doesn't cut it.
I belive the special forces and CIA will soon provide some energizing.
Richard Jewell didn't run.
If they aren't a threat, and weren't involved in terroristic endeavors, why run?
Richard Jewell didn't run.
This is a analogy test.
Did Richard Jewel get trashed when put through the FBI's ringer, so to speak.
"They also say Derwish traveled to Bosnia to fight on behalf of Muslims struggling under Serb domination nearly a decade ago."
Serb domination, NOT!! The usual propaganda!!
Speaking of Mohammed Albanna :
Mohamed T. Albanna, vice president of the American Muslim Council of Western New York and a frequent spokesman for the defendants known as the "Lackawanna Six," appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Hugh B. Scott on Tuesday after raids on two homes in Lackawanna and Albanna's Buffalo warehouse. Albanna, 51; his brother, Ali A. Albanna, 29; and his nephew, Ali Taher Elbaneh, 57; are accused of sending nearly $500,000 to Yemen between October and December.
------3 in custody as raids focus on money trail to Yemen The Buffalo News ^ | 12/18 | MICHAEL BEEBE
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