Yemeni-American pleads not guilty to U.S. charge [Archives:2004/703/Local News]

January 15 2004

BUFFALO, N.Y. (Reuters) – A spokesman for the families of six Yemeni-American men who admitted attending a military-style al Qaeda training camp pleaded not guilty on Monday to charges he illegally sent millions of dollars to Yemen from his Buffalo, New York, cigarette and candy store.
Mohammed Albanna, 51, and three other men were indicted last week by U.S. prosecutors on charges that superseded those in December 2002 that accused them of sending money to Yemen, a country the U.S. suspects is a base for Islamic militants.
The recipients of the money were not identified, but prosecutors said the operation broke the USA Patriot Act, an anti-terrorism law passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that requires money-transmitting companies with overseas business to register with the U.S. government.
“The money was sent to families from here to Yemen and it did not go to terrorists,” Albanna told reporters after his appearance before U.S. District Court Judge Hugh Scott in Buffalo. “It went to thousands of families.”
The judge scheduled the next hearing for Feb. 23.
Albanna, a U.S. citizen, is a leader in the Yemeni-American community of Lackawanna near Buffalo on the Canadian border and often acted as spokesman for the families of the so-called “Lackawanna 6,” whose case drew national attention in 2002-2003.
The six men pleaded guilty to charges of supporting the Islamic militant group al Qaeda by attending a training camp in 2001. Last month they were sentenced to prison terms of between seven and 10 years.
Albanna's business supplies snacks and cigarettes to scores of delicatessens. He is the president of the Lackawanna Yemenite Benevolent Association.
Two members of his family, Ali A. Albanna, 29, and Ali Taher Elbaneh, 52, were indicted and also pleaded not guilty on Monday. A fourth man, identified by prosecutors as Abdul Wali Kushasha of Sanaa, Yemen, was also indicted.
The government said that between Nov. 1, 2001, and Dec. 17, 2002, about $3.5 million was sent to Yemen. The government is seeking forfeiture of the money.
The charges carry maximum penalties of up to 10 years in prison and $1 million in fines.