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Possible Translation Error May Hurt Terrorism Case

August 18, 2004|From Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. — Federal prosecutors Tuesday acknowledged a possible translation error in a key piece of evidence used to arrest and detain a mosque leader accused of supporting terrorism.

Yassin M. Aref is charged with aiding a government informant in a sting operation involving a fake plot to buy a shoulder-fired missile to assassinate a Pakistani diplomat.

The translation discrepancy stems from a notebook that the FBI said was found in a terrorist camp in northern Iraq last summer. The indictment said an Arabic entry referred to Aref as a "commander" and listed his former address and phone number in Albany.

But FBI translators who now have a copy of the original entry say the phrase means "brother," prosecutors told the judge in a letter.

Aref is the imam of the Masjid as-Salam mosque in Albany. Also charged this month in the sting was Mohammed M. Hossain, 49, one of the mosque's founders.

The notebook was cited last week by Magistrate David Homer as part of his rationale for refusing to set bail for Aref.

Defense attorneys say the error undermines the government case and that both men should be released on bail.

"It's a travesty," lawyer Terence L. Kindlon said.

U.S. Atty. Glenn Suddaby said authorities were not sure which translation was correct, but said it didn't change the case.

"It doesn't change their behavior. It doesn't change the significance of where this notebook was found," he said Tuesday.

Aref, a native of Kurdistan in Iraq, and Hossain, who is from Bangladesh, face up to 70 years in prison if convicted.

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