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The Nation

Judge Denies Bail for Terror Suspects

N.Y. mosque's spiritual leader was listed in a notebook at a militant camp, a prosecutor says.

August 11, 2004|John J. Goldman | Times Staff Writer

ALBANY, N.Y. — The spiritual leader of an Albany mosque was ordered held without bail Tuesday after a prosecutor said his name, U.S. address and telephone number were found in a notebook in a terrorist camp in Iraq.

Assistant U.S. Atty. David M. Grable said the listing referred to Yassin M. Aref, 34, as "Commander."

U.S. forces destroyed the camp -- operated by Ansar al Islam, a militant group linked to the Al Qaeda terrorist network -- in June 2003. The book containing addresses and phone numbers from several countries was retrieved along with weapons manuals, shoulder-fired missiles and other armaments.

Aref and co-defendant Mohammed M. Hossain, 49, were arrested Thursday after a yearlong government sting operation. They are charged with money laundering and providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization. If convicted, they could face up to 70 years in prison.

Hossain was also denied bail. His and Aref's trials are expected in the next six to eight months.

Terence L. Kindlon, Aref's lawyer, called the government's case entrapment. "These charges are based on a concocted story," he said.

Hossain's lawyer, Kevin Luibrand, said the government had financed a conspiracy. He defended his client, saying, "He is a U.S. citizen, he has a wife and five children, no prior arrest record."

The two men are accused of involvement in a fictitious plot by an FBI informant to assassinate Pakistan's ambassador to the United Nations with a shoulder-fired missile. Prosecutors say the informant asked the men to launder money he said terrorists had given him to import the missile from China.

Hossain, the owner of an Albany pizza parlor who attended the mosque, was shown a disarmed missile by the informant, while Aref was given a photo of its trigger mechanism, prosecutors say.

The FBI obtained extensive recordings and videotapes of Hossain and Aref meeting with the informant, a Pakistani immigrant who was facing sentencing for document fraud, officials say.

According to court papers, the sting began after Hossain asked the informant to obtain a fake driver's license for his brother.

After discussions about holy war, the informant allegedly told Hossain and Aref that he was working with a militant group based in Pakistan and that he imported weapons and ammunition from China.

Prosecutors charge that Hossain agreed to launder $50,000 through his restaurant and brought Aref into the plot.

"There is no question the offense was suggested by the government informant," U.S. Magistrate Judge David Homer said at the bail hearing Tuesday. He said that if the government's allegations were true, both defendants went along with the scheme.

Homer said he was denying bail for the men because Hossain and Aref posed a threat to the community and could flee from prosecution.

According to court papers, the FBI first questioned Aref, imam of the Masjid as-Salam Mosque, a month after the Sept. 11 attacks.

At the time, agents were investigating Ali Mounnes Yaghi, another pizza shop owner and a Jordanian immigrant who prayed at the mosque, to try to determine whether he had any connection to the attacks. Yaghi was deported.

Aref immigrated to the United States five years ago from Iraq.

Kindlon told the court that finding the notebook in Iraq with his client's name proved nothing and that it could have been stolen from one of Aref's relatives in that country.

"We have not had the benefit of seeing that notebook," he said.

At a news conference in Washington last week announcing the arrests, Deputy Atty. Gen. James Comey said the sting was designed "to send a disrupting message" to people plotting terrorism.

"We are working very, very hard to infiltrate the enemy," he said.

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