Lackawanna Terror Case Less Clear Than Bush Claims

Print More

President Bush in his 2003 State of the Union address claimed credit for breaking an Al Qaeda cell in Buffalo. Attorney General John Ashcroft said the case, actually based in nearby Lackawanna, N.Y., “sent an unambiguous message that we will track down terrorists wherever they hide.”

But an examination by the New York Times and the PBS program “Frontline” called the case “a more measured victory over a profoundly ambiguous threat.” Six mean pleaded guilty to training with a terrorist organization, but counterterrorism officials did not answer the mystery of what, if anything, Al Qaeda had in mind for its Lackawanna recruits. The federal prosecutor in the case, Michael A. Battle, does not call them a terrorist cell. “It’s a heavy burden to prove,” he said, “and I wasn’t prepared to do that.”

Lackawanna was the first major test of a retooled law enforcement establishment whose mission is less to solve terrorist crimes than to make sure they do not happen. The Times says the inside story “reveals a government feeling its way across a fresh landscape to crush a threat it cannot quite grasp.” Peter Ahearn, head of the Buffalo F.B.I. office, described the riddle of prevention this way: “If we don’t know for sure they’re going to do something, or not, we need to make sure that we prevent anything they may be planning, whether or not we know or don’t know about it.”


Comments are closed.


You have Free articles left this month.

Want access to all our reporting? Subscribe for unlimited access or login.