Judge frees 2 suspects and blasts terror case
Prosecutors concede a translation error
By Ellen Wulfhorst, Reuters | August 25, 2004
ALBANY, N.Y. -- Two Islamic men accused of supporting terrorism after their arrest in an FBI sting operation were ordered released from jail yesterday by a judge who blasted the government's case by saying there is no evidence they have any links to terrorists.
US Magistrate David Homer ruled Yassin Aref and Mohammed Hossain should be released on $250,000 bond each and held in home detention under electronic surveillance while they await trial. He said that could take up to two years, so the men will be allowed to work and attend mosque until the trial.
The pair had been ordered held without bail earlier this month -- a ruling largely based on an address book that prosecutors said was found in an Iraqi terrorist training camp. The book referred to Aref as ''the commander" in Arabic.
The government now says that translation was an error and the word is ''brother" in Kurdish.
Aref, 34, the leader of an Albany mosque, and Hossain, 49, a pizzeria owner, were arrested in a sting operation in which authorities said they agreed to help an FBI informant launder $50,000 from the sale of a shoulder-fired missile as part of a fake plan to assassinate a Pakistani diplomat.
They pleaded not guilty to charges of money laundering, supporting terrorism, and conspiracy on Aug. 10.
The judge chided the government, saying the case is much weaker now than it first appeared. He said the two were not plotting violence and are not a danger to the community. ''The evidence in this case appears less strong today," Homer said. ''There is no evidence . . . to support the claim that Mr. Aref has any contact with any terrorist organization."
Defense attorney Terence Kindlon said the government was not merely overzealous but had presented false information.
''We've gone from something that sounded sinister and ominous and scary and terrible to zero in less than two weeks," he told the judge.
Prosecutors argued that whether the word was ''commander" or ''brother" was irrelevant and does not affect the criminal charges the two men face. They say the pair were willing participants in the sting operation set up by the FBI.
Under terms of their release, which is likely in one to two days, neither man may leave the area without permission.