Five of the six members of the Lackawanna Six have been transferred to a federal prison in Indiana, and their families are trying to find out why.
Their attorneys confirmed Wednesday that Shafal A. Mosed, 28; Mukhtar al-Bakri, 26; Yasein A. Taher, 29; Faysal H. Galab, 30; and Sahim Alwan, 34; were all recently moved to the Federal Correctional Institution in Terre Haute, Ind. The U.S. Bureau of Prisons also verified that the men are being held there.
Family members of the five men are upset because most of them were held previously in facilities much closer to Western New York. Now family members will have to drive 570 miles -- more than nine hours -- to visit the convicted conspirators in Terre Haute. They also could take a flight to Indianapolis, about 70 miles from Terre Haute.
Some supporters of the men wonder if the move is part of a government effort to toughen the punishment they already are receiving for traveling to Afghanistan and training with the al-Qaida terrorist group.
"They were all snatched up and moved [earlier this month]," said Alwan's attorney, James P. Harrington. "This makes it extraordinarily hard for their families to visit them. From what we understand, their telephone and visitation time are being drastically cut, too."
Harrington and other defense attorneys are trying to find out the reason for the move and whether it is punitive.
Harrington said he has heard that the government wants to keep all federal prisoners from terrorism-related prosecutions in one facility.
"This is very unusual, because the Bureau of Prisons rarely puts multiple defendants from one criminal case in the same prison," said Galab's attorney, Joseph M. LaTona. "They usually keep them separated."
Aside from verifying that the five men are at the medium-security prison in Terre Haute, U.S. Bureau of Prisons officials had no comment on the move Wednesday. A prison spokesman, Michael Truman, said he was unaware of any plan to move all the convicts from terrorism-related cases to one facility.
The medium-security prison is part of the Terre Haute Federal Correctional Complex, which also includes a high-security institution and the nation's only federal death row and execution center, which the prison calls its "special confinement unit." Oklahoma City bomber Timothy J. McVeigh, a native of Pendleton, was put to death at Terre Haute in June 2001.
About 3,000 inmates are confined at the complex, authorities said.
President Bush and members of his administration have often cited the Lackawanna Six as a major success story in the fight against terrorism in the United States.
But critics have assailed the government for imprisoning men for "thought crimes" or "crimes of association."
The six men had traveled to Afghanistan prior to Sept. 11, 2001, and trained at a terrorist camp under the supervision of Osama bin Laden, architect of the 9/1 1 terrorist strikes.
The Lackawanna men have repeatedly denied they had any intention of taking part in any terrorist act.
Ultimately, five pleaded guilty to providing material support to al-Qaida. Galab pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of engaging in a transaction with prohibited individuals.
When the six men agreed to plead guilty in 2003, sentencing Judge William M. Skretny and the U.S. Justice Department agreed to recommend that they be held in prisons as close as possible to Western New York.
"It's very disconcerting that, after the judge and prosecutors agreed to do that, the prison system now seems to be ignoring it," said Mosed's attorney, Patrick J. Brown.
The whereabouts of the sixth man who traveled to Afghanistan -- Yahya A. Goba, 29 -- are a mystery. He is the only one of the six no longer listed on the "inmate locater" on the Bureau of Prisons Web site.
Officials of the bureau said they could not comment when asked whether Goba is in protective custody or the witness-protection program because of assistance he has given to the government.
Goba was identified by the government as one of the leaders and organizers of the al-Qaida trip. In court papers filed in 2003, a prosecutor said Goba had provided extensive help and detail on al-Qaida's "leaders, trainers and recruits."
Goba's attorney, Marianne Mariano of the federal public defender's office, was out of town and could not be reached Wednesday.
Galab is scheduled to be the first of the Lackawanna group to be released from federal prison, sometime in January 2009, but he could be freed several months sooner if his prison behavior is good.