News Articles

From New York Times , August 11, 2004

Bail Denied for 2 in Albany in F.B.I.'s
Fake Missile Plot

Published: August 11, 2004
New York Times

 A federal judge denied bail on Tuesday for two Muslim men charged in a fake plot set up by federal investigators to assassinate a Pakistani diplomat.

The two men, Yassin M. Aref, 34, and Mohammed M. Hossain, 49, were recorded and videotaped over a yearlong sting operation during which they were led to believe that a government informer was really a terrorist who needed them to launder money raised from the sale of a shoulder-fired missile that would be used in an attack in New York City.

Defense lawyers argued that the government scheme amounted to entrapment.

The judge, David R. Homer, a federal magistrate judge, said, however, that the specter of terrorism caused him to view the case in a different light and that the failure of the men to turn away from the plot made them a danger to the community.

Judge Homer said he was also troubled by the government's claim that Mr. Aref's name and Albany address had been found by United States soldiers when they raided a camp in northern Iraq run by the terrorist group Ansar al-Islam. Mr. Aref is referred to as the ''commander'' in the notebook, according to prosecutors, who did not provide the Arabic word used.

Mr. Aref's lawyer, Terence L. Kindlon, said he had not been provided a copy of the page from the notebook. ''All you can do is stand there and flap your arms,'' he said after the hearing, obviously frustrated. Several Arabic speakers at the courthouse noted that ''commander'' could easily be a mistranslation of something more innocuous.

In the courtroom, Mr. Kindlon presented his client as a loving father of three young children who was ''sensitive, intelligent and philosophical.''

Mr. Aref, who is Kurdish, was born in northern Iraq and fled his homeland in 1995. He spent several years in Syria, where he met his wife, before gaining refugee status and settling in Albany.

He is well known in the small Muslim community here, where he was the imam at a local mosque, Masjid as-Salam. The mosque, which is in a ramshackle building on Central Avenue less than a mile from the Capitol, is a modest affair that draws a couple of hundred faithful for Friday prayers. Those who frequent the mosque tend to be newer to America and poorer than those who go to the main mosque in the Albany suburbs.

Many supporters of Mr. Aref and Mr. Hossain packed the courtroom for the hearing. The men, mostly bearded and wearing traditional garb, stood along the walls while the women sat in the back, veiled and in tears.

Zuhur Jalal, Mr. Aref's wife, said in an interview that her husband did not know about the plot to assassinate anyone and was a good man. She came to the courthouse with her three children. ''I had no one to leave them at home with,'' she said.

Mr. Kindlon said in an interview that when the plot was mentioned to Mr. Aref, he thought the informer was joking.

The government's case, as presented in a 19-count indictment, relies heavily on evidence gathered by an informer who worked for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The informer, who had worked with investigators in previous cases, met Mr. Hossain after he presented himself as someone who could secure false documents.

Mr. Hossain, a naturalized American citizen from Bangladesh, was seeking a driver's license for his ''retarded'' brother, according to his lawyer, Kevin A. Luibrand.

In later meetings, the informer laid out the details of a plot -- invented by the government -- that entailed the purchase of a Chinese-made surface-to-air missile that was going to be used in an attack on the Pakistani Mission to the United Nations in New York.

Prosecutors showed the judge a grainy black and white photo dated Nov. 20,2003, which they said was the informer displaying the weapon to Mr. Hossain in a meeting.

Mr. Luibrand did not directly address the question of why his client did not reject the plan out of hand. Instead, he told the judge, ''He could give a darn about terrorism; he could give a darn about what happens overseas.''

The excerpts of transcripts of conversations between Mr. Hossain, Mr. Aref and the informer provided by the government show, however, that the men often talked bitterly about President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan.

On Monday, Pakistani officials expressed outrage that the fake plot had involved a diplomat from their country, calling the scheme ''bizarre'' and ''dangerous.''

Glenn T. Suddaby, the United States attorney for the Northern District of New York, said that since the plot was not real and the missile disabled, there was never any danger to anyone, and that therefore there was no need for the Pakistani government to be concerned.

Mr. Suddaby, flanked by officials from both local and federal law enforcement agencies at a news conference, said the judge's decision was a validation of the importance of the case. He said that he hoped it would send a message to everyone who might be inclined to be involved in terrorism that they can never be sure the government is not listening.

Local Muslim leaders, on the other hand, said the case set a dangerous precedent, whereby it is acceptable to profile the community and where just by mentioning the word ''terror'' there is a presumption of guilt.

''The day of the search, the law enforcement agents entered our mosque through its back door,'' said Faisal Ahmad, a teacher at Masjid as-Salam. ''We'd like to let them know that the front door is open. I think that there's a lot that is misunderstood about Islam and we have some catching up to do.''

Mr. Kindlon said that in the current environment he was not surprised by the judge's decision, but he was still deeply disturbed by it.

''I had the feeling that I had gone through the looking-glass and fallen down the rat hole,'' Mr. Kindlon said. He quoted Deputy Attorney General James Comey, who in announcing the arrests last week, conceded that they did not amount to ''the crime of the century.''

Mr. Kindlon added, ''It is not even the crime of the week.''


January 6, 2008

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