The U.S. Justice Department wants a judge to reduce the prison term of Yahya Goba, a "Lackawanna Six" member who has risked his life to help the government prosecute several terrorism-related cases.
Authorities considered Goba, 30, one of the leaders of the group of men who traveled to an al-Qaida terrorist training camp in early 2001.
But since Goba took a guilty plea in 2003, authorities say he has been extremely helpful with information about al-Qaida -- widely considered the world's most feared terrorist group -- and as a witness in several successful terrorism prosecutions.
Federal prosecutors in Buffalo recently asked District Judge William M. Skretny to cut Goba's current 10-year sentence by one year. Skretny is expected to rule on the request sometime after Dec. 10.
Such requests are rarely made by the government in Buffalo's federal courts.
"[Goba] has done everything the government has asked of him, and more," Goba's attorney, Marianne Mariano of the federal public defenders office, said on Friday. "Obviously, there have been [security] ramifications for him and his family."
"Goba provided, and continues to provide, information which is both highly useful and valuable to the government in a number of important terrorism prosecutions in this country and elsewhere," Assistant U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. said in court papers.
The government has such deep concerns about Goba's security that his name is not even listed on the U.S. Bureau of Prisons online inmate locater. With very few exceptions, the locater lists every federal prisoner, their date of incarceration and the prison where they are held.
His co-defendants -- Shafal Mosed, Mukhtar al-Bakri, Yasein Taher, Faysal Galab and Sahim Alwan -- are listed on the prison locater and are being held in a federal prison at Terre Haute, Ind. The government has made no requests for their sentences to be reduced.
The Lackawanna men are among a relative handful of Americans who are known to have met in person with Osama bin Laden, the architect of the 9/1 1 attacks and the world's most wanted terrorist.
Federal agents said bin Laden spoke to the Lackawanna men and other trainees during their ill-fated trip to the training camp in the early part of 2001. Prosecutors have repeatedly called Goba one of the leaders of that trip.
According to court papers and law enforcement officials, Goba has provided the following assistance since becoming a government witness:
*Insights about the al-Qaida organization, its efforts to recruit terrorists in the United States and procedures in the Afghanistan camp where the Lackawanna men were trained.
*Testimony in the case of Jose Padilla, who was convicted in August in Miami of helping to plan overseas terrorist attacks.
*Testimony in the case of Sheik Mohammad al-Moayad, a Muslim cleric from New York City who was sentenced to 75 years in prison in 2005 for raising money for terrorist groups.
*Traveling to Australia to assist in the case of "Jihad Jack" Thomas. Thomas, a taxi driver, was convicted of assisting al-Qaida, but his conviction was overturned last year.
*Information used in the prosecution of Mohamed T. Albanna, a Buffalo businessman who was sentenced to five years last year for illegally transmitting millions of dollars from Buffalo to Yemen.
*Testimony against Sami al Hussayen of Idaho, a student who was acquitted of using an Internet Web site to encourage young men to join terrorist groups. Despite the acquittal, al Hussayen was deported on immigration charges in 2004.
While helping prosecutors in the al-Moayad case in New York City, Goba was kept in protective lockdown for 23 hours a day and was only allowed to contact his wife once a month, Hochul and U.S. Attorney Terrance P. Flynn said in court papers.
Mariano said fears for Goba's safety have made his life difficult since he agreed to provide information to federal prosecutors and FBI agents.
"He has a young daughter who was born after he was arrested [in September 2002]," Mariano said. "He rarely gets to see her. This has been difficult on him and his family."
A devout Muslim, Goba is a graduate of Lackawanna High School. He had worked at a deli and at a plastics plant in the Buffalo area before authorities charged him in the "Lackawanna Six" case.
Although he helped organize the trip to the terrorist camp, his supporters insist that Goba loves the United States and would never do anything to harm Americans.
According to Mariano, Goba could be released sometime in 2010 if Skretny grants the Justice Department's request, and also if Goba gets some time off for good behavior in prison.
News Staff Reporter Lou Michel contributed to this report.