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Elbaneh is a 'Most Wanted Terrorist'

A former Lackawanna man has been placed on an FBI list of the world's most wanted terrorism suspects.

Jaber A. Elbaneh, 39, an associate of the Lackawanna Six, is now one of 26 men on the agency's "Most Wanted Terrorists" list. The list is headed by al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, the most wanted criminal in the world.

Elbaneh is believed to be one of the 23 criminal suspects who escaped Feb. 3 from a prison run by the Yemen government in Sana, Yemen.

"The fact that [Elbaneh] has been placed on this list is an indication that he is considered to be a dangerous individual," said Buffalo FBI spokesman Paul M. Moskal. "He's an individual who has not only associated with al-Qaida, but has taken part in a prison breakout with al-Qaida."

A Yemeni citizen and former worker at a Buffalo cheese factory, Elbaneh has many relatives in Lackawanna, police said. He has been sought by Buffalo anti-terrorism agents since 2002. He is charged criminally here with being one of the organizers of the Lackawanna Six group, who trained with al-Qaida several months before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The FBI's Web site features three photographs of Elbaneh. It describes him as 5-foot-8, 200 pounds and "stocky." The FBI site says Elbaneh was born on Sept. 9, 1966, speaks English and Arabic, and has worked as a salesman and a taxi cab driver.

The U.S. State Department issued a reward of up to $5 million for Elbaneh's capture in September 2003.

Federal agents believe Elbaneh had been in the custody of Yemen officials for more than two years before his escape earlier this month. They said the American government had a difficult time getting information from the Yemen government during the time he was in prison in Yemen.

Many police officials, including Lackawanna Police Chief Dennis J. O'Hara, are upset by the escape and suspicious about how such a large number of high-profile terrorism suspects were able to break out. O'Hara said he has suspicions the breakout was an "inside job."

"We've heard that he has made statements that he was willing to be a martyr for the al-Qaida cause, and that's scary to me," O'Hara said of Elbaneh on Friday. "He's been with terrorists for a long time. Who knows how brainwashed he has become?"

Lackawanna relatives have described Elbaneh as a gentle, deeply religious man who never would have become involved with terrorists.

Authorities said the escapees fled the prison through an underground tunnel. Police in Yemen are investigating whether prisoners tunneled their way out, or if someone on the outside tunneled their way in to free them.

The FBI said Elbaneh has used six aliases in the past: Jaber A. Elbenelt, Jaben A. Elbenelt, Jabor Elbaneh, Abu Jubaer, Jubaer Elbaneh and "Jubair."

e-mail: dherbeck@buffnews.com

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