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Two New York Mosque Leaders to Remain in Custody After Missile Sting - 2004-08-10

A federal judge has denied bail to two Albany men who were arrested last week for their alleged involvement in a fake plot to purchase a shoulder-fired missile. The charges include money laundering and conspiracy.

The indictment accuses Mohammed Hossain, 49, and Yassin Aref, 43, of trying to conceal material support for terrorism.

The two men are considered a flight-risk and will be detained until a trial takes place.

They were arrested after a year-long FBI sting operation, in which a government informant convinced the men he was purchasing a rocket-propelled grenade launcher to use in an attack against the Pakistani ambassador's office in New York City.

According the government's charges, Mr. Hossain agreed to launder the money, and Mr. Aref served as a witness to the transaction.

Mr. Hossain is a native of Bangladesh and founder of the Albany mosque that was raided by FBI agents last Thursday. Mr. Aref is a Kurd who was born in Iraq and was granted political asylum in the United States several years ago.

Following the arrests, newspaper reports quoted anonymous law enforcement officials who claimed that documents uncovered last year at an Ansar al-Islam terrorist camp in northern Iraq refer to Mr. Aref as "the commander," and they contain his address and phone number in Albany.

His lawyer, Terry Kindlon, told VOA's Kurdish service that those allegations are baseless.

"I would like to see this document, if it exists. I would like to have it examined by an expert," he said. "I would like to have explained to me what it is, then if we assume for the sake of argument that the document does exist, I'd like somebody to tell me what it means. Are they saying that my client was a terrorist in the Mideast? Because if so, he doesn't remember that."

The indictment contains no mention of those documents or of Ansar al-Islam, a terrorist organization that U.S. officials believe has ties to Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

U.S. officials say they began tracking the suspects after Mr. Hossain tried to obtain a fake driver's license for a relative. An FBI informant befriended Mr. Hossain, and eventually told him about his alleged plan to attack the Pakistani diplomat. The government witness recorded some 300 hours of conversations with the suspects, including arrangements to hide the cash for the fake weapon by running it through Mr. Hossain's business.

During a news conference last week, Deputy U.S. Attorney James Comey said the suspects engaged in criminal action and must be punished.

"The primary purpose of this case is to lock up two guys we believe committed crimes, and were ready, willing, and able to assist someone they believed to be involved in pretty bad stuff," he said. "As with every criminal case we hope that it sends a broader deterrent message. In this one, an unusual kind of message, in that we want the bad guys to worry about us."

The defense lawyer, Mr. Kindlon, says the government was simply overzealous in its pursuit of the men.

"Frankly what I'm seeing here strikes me as racial profiling, ethnic profiling. I think this prosecution may be politically motivated," he said.

Pakistan's foreign ministry spokesman has criticized the fake FBI plot for drawing unnecessary attention to the Pakistani ambassador and possibly endangering his life.