- Member of the New York-based al Qaeda cell, the Lackawanna Six
- Trained at an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan
- Sentenced to ten years in prison for providing support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization
Born in January 1977 in the Bronx, New York, Yahya Goba was raised and educated in Yemen. In late 1996 he relocated to Western New York State, where in 2001-02 he was an active member of a six-man al-Qaeda terrorist cell based in the town of Lackawanna (near Buffalo). His five accomplices were were Mukhtar Al-Bakri, Sahim A. Alwan, Faysal Galab, Shafal Mosed, and Yasein Taher. This group eventually came to known as the Lackawanna Six or Buffalo Six, and all of its members hailed from a community of approximately 3,000 Yemeni Muslim residents of Lackawanna. They were recruited into terrorism by two veteran mujaheddin, Kamal Derwish and Juma al-Dosari, who encouraged them to attend a six-week-long weapons course at al-Qaeda’s Al-Farooq training camp in Afghanistan, near Kandahar. At one point, Goba allowed Derwish to live in his Lackawanna home.
Goba traveled traveled to the Al-Farooq camp in the spring of 2001, though he falsely told his relatives and friends that he was going to Pakistan to study with the Islamic evangelical group Tablighi Jamaat. The first leg of Goba’s trip was a stopover in Pakistan, where Kamal Derwish met him and escorted him across the border into Afghanistan.
Goba was present on one occasion in June 2001 when Osama bin Laden visited the Al-Farooq camp with his chief lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and delivered a 20-minute speech in Arabic to the hundreds of trainees. In his address, bin Laden discussed the recent merger between al-Qaeda and Egyptian Islamic Jihad; hinted about suicide operations that were planned against the U.S. and Israel; and exhorted those in attendance to pray for some 40 operatives who he said were about to embark on a very important mission (presumably a reference to 9/11).
Throughout the spring and summer of 2001, the Al-Farooq training camp conducted numerous evacuation drills in anticipation of a possible U.S. bombing raid. At various times, each of the Lackawanna Six left the camp and returned to the United States without completing their basic training course. (A seventh Lackawanna resident, 36-year-old Jaber Elbaneh, stayed in the Middle East and remained loyal to al-Qaeda.) Once they were back in New York, none of the Lackawanna Six told any American authorities about what they had seen and done in Afghanistan.
In early June 2001, the FBI’s Buffalo, New York field office received an anonymous, handwritten letter from someone in Lackawanna’s Yemeni community naming several locals (including Goba) who allegedly had been recruited by “two terrorists” and then traveled to “meet bin Laden and stay in his camp for training.” FBI agent Edward Needham checked these names against criminal databases and found that a number of them had previously been convicted of such offenses as drug dealing and cigarette smuggling. Needham put the names on an FBI watch list and formally opened an investigation on June 15.
Goba returned to the United States in August 2001 and allowed al-Qaeda recruiter Juma al-Dosari to live in his home for awhile. Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Goba gave al-Dosari money to help him flee the country before law-enforcement and intelligence authorities could track him down.
Following an extended FBI probe, Goba was arrested on September 13, 2002. The following month he was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization (al-Qaeda). Like his five accomplices, Goba pleaded not guilty. But within a few months, all six defendants reversed course and decided to plead guilty in exchange for prison terms ranging from approximately six-and-a-half to nine years. According to the chairman of the American Bar Association’s Task Force on Treatment of Enemy Combatants: “The defendants believed that if they didn’t plead guilty, they’d end up in a black hole forever.”
Goba issued his guilty plea on March 25, 2003. According to court papers, he gave investigators valuable intelligence which included identifications and descriptions of a number of al-Qaeda leaders, trainers and recruits. As part of his deal, Goba also agreed to testify against Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, Osama bin Laden’s chief propagandist. In exchange for the information he supplied, Goba was given the option of entering the Witness Protection Program and assuming a new identity. On December 10, 2003, he was sentenced to ten years behind bars. At the sentencing, however, the judge—noting the role Goba had played in helping and harboring the al-Qaeda recruiters Derwish and al-Dosari—said: “’Perhaps in your case, it [ten years] is not long enough.”
A few years later, Goba testified in the 2007 trial of “dirty bomber” Jose Padilla in Miami.
Further Reading: “Profiles: The Lackawanna Cell” (PBS.org); “Al Qaeda Shock Wave Stuns Community” (Chicago Tribune, 9-17-2002); “Judge Questions Sentence in Al Qaeda Case” (NY Times, 12-11-2003); Timeline of the Lackawanna Six & Its Members (HistoryCommons.org); “Where the Trail Led … Inside the Lackawanna Terror Case” (NY Times, 10-12-2003); “Chronology: The Lackawanna Investigation” (PBS.org); “Judge Questions Sentence in Al Qaeda Case” (NY Times, 12-11-2003); “Testimony: Bin Laden Sought Americans ‘Willing to Die’” (CNN.com, 1-10-2003); “Defendant Yahya Goba Pleads Guilty to Providing Material Support to Al Qaeda” (Dept. of Justice, 3-25-2003); “Second of ‘Lackawanna Six’ Defendants Gets Sentenced” (Los Angeles Times, 12-5-2003); “U. S. Gives Half of Lackawanna Six a Fresh Start” (LiveLeak.com); “Judge Questions Sentence in Al Qaeda Case” (NY Times, 12-11-2003); “Witness Describes Training Padilla Reportedly Received” (NY Times, 5-19-2007).