Albany council votes to ask feds to reopen Muslim men's case

Section: Main,  Page: A2

Date: Tuesday, April 6, 2010

ALBANY -- Scores of activists marched on City Hall Monday demanding that city lawmakers call on the federal Justice Department to review the prosecutions of two Muslim men imprisoned for trying to launder money in support of a fake terrorist plot.

And the Common Council -- after hearing the tearful pleas of those whose family members have been entangled in similar federal investigations -- obliged.

The council voted 10-0-4 to ask the Justice Department to take another look at the Albany case, and others like it, in which classified information -- derided by skeptics as "secret evidence" -- was used to convict Muslims of terrorism-related charges.

Doing so, argued the measure's sponsor, Councilman Dominick Calsolaro, simply asks the Justice Department to follow the recommendation of its own inspector general that prosecutors review such cases to ensure that evidence collected under the government's secret warrant-less wiretapping program wasn't improperly withheld from defense attorneys.

"It's about following the rule of law," said Councilwoman Barbara Smith, a co-sponsor. "It's not about guilt or innocence actually ... what this is saying that our legal system should not be arbitrary."

The elaborate FBI sting that led the government's case against Yassin Aref and Mohammed Hossain, both members of the same Central Avenue mosque, came less than three years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Aref and Hossain were arrested in August 2004, convicted and sentenced to 15 years each in federal prison for their roles in the fabricated plot to sell an inoperative shoulder-fired missile to terrorists supposedly planning an assassination. The case sparked fear and then, among supporters of the men, outrage that the a government informant was used to recruit the men for a plot invented by the FBI

Police and prosecutors countered, however, that Aref and Hossain were only too willing to join the plan laid out by the informant -- a man the government used in a similar sting in Newburgh.