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Old August 5, 2004, 01:06 PM
rassel rassel is offline
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Default Two Albany, N.Y., Mosque Leaders Arrested

By CURT ANDERSON, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - Two leaders of a mosque in Albany, N.Y., were arrested on charges stemming from an alleged plot to purchase a shoulder-fired missile that would be used to assassinate the Pakistani ambassador in New York, according to court papers filed Thursday.


The men have ties to a group called Ansar al-Islam, which has been linked to al-Qaida, according to two federal law enforcement authorities speaking on condition of anonymity. U.S. officials have said that Ansar's members are thought to be affiliated with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian militant whose network is blamed for attacks on U.S. forces and their allies in Iraq (news - web sites).


The arrests came as FBI (news - web sites), Immigration and Customs Enforcement and other agents executed search warrants at the Masjid As-Salam mosque and two Albany-area residences late Wednesday and early Thursday. The suspects were identified as Yassin Aref, 34, the imam of the mosque, and Mohammed Hossain, 49, one of the mosque's founders. Hossain also owns the Little Italy Pizzeria in Albany, court documents said.


The Albany case was not related to the Bush administration's terror alerts over the weekend indicating that al-Qaida may be plotting attacks against U.S. financial buildings, officials said. Some have criticized the decision to issue the warning, which was largely based on intelligence that was several years old.


A Justice Department (news - web sites) news conference with Deputy Attorney General James Comey and an FBI official was scheduled in Washington to discuss the case.


According to law enforcement officials, the two are being charged with providing material support to terrorism by participating in a conspiracy to help someone they believed was a terrorist purchase a shoulder-fired missile. The person was in fact a convicted felon working undercover for the government to reduce his prison sentence for document fraud.


The informant, a non-U.S. citizen, told the men he was associated with Jaish-e-Mohammed, an Islamic extremist group in Pakistan that the U.S. government considers a terrorist organization. According to court records, the informant told the pair that the missile would be used to mount an attack on the Pakistani consulate across the street from the United Nations (news - web sites). The target would be the Pakistani ambassador.


No missile ever changed hands.


The informant approached Hossain in November 2003 during a meeting that was secretly videotaped, according to an affidavit by FBI Agent Timothy Coll. The informant told Hossain he imported weapons and ammunition from China, shipped equipment to New York and that Islamic fundamentalists used such weapons to shoot down airplanes. The informant told Hossain he earned $50,000 from the sale of each missile.


Coll said Hossain smiled when he saw a photograph of a shoulder-fired missile and said he could earn a substantial sum from such imports, which are illegal. Coll said the two "then further discussed religion."


A month later, during a secretly videotaped meeting at Hossain's pizzeria, the informant proposed giving Hossain $50,000 to launder on the informant's behalf with the understanding that Hossain could keep $5,000, Coll said.


Hossain said he didn't need that much money but ultimately agreed to make it appear Hossain had earned the money from rental properties. Hossain recruited Aref, an imam at the mosque, to witness the laundering transactions and said Aref wouldn't betray their confidence because "he's not afraid of anything; he's only afraid of God."


New York Gov. George Pataki held a news conference in Albany to applaud the arrests and encourage citizens to remain vigilant.


"The fact is, there are terrorists among us who want to engage in acts to attack us again," he said.


The wives of the two suspects denied their husbands were involved in any terror plot.


"It's totally wrong and totally false and totally a lie," Hossain's wife, Mossamat, said in a telephone interview.


She said more than a half-dozen agents stormed the family's apartment at about 1:30 a.m., just as her husband returned from New York City where he had gone to buy a plane ticket to Bangladesh for her mother.





Aref's wife, Zuhor Jalal, said the FBI came to her home about 2 a.m. and told her they had her husband in custody. They took her and her three young children to a hotel then searched their home.

Jalal said she and her husband are natives of Kurdistan and lived in Syria for five years before coming to America.

"We come for freedom and job," she said.

This is the second FBI sting operation involving an alleged attempt to purchase a missile. Last August, a British arms dealer was arrested in New Jersey and charged with trying to sell a shoulder-fired missile to an undercover agent posing as a Muslim terrorist bent on shooting down a U.S. airliner.

Law enforcement officials have for years been concerned about terrorists obtaining shoulder-fired missiles and using them to take down commercial airliners. Fears were heightened in November 2002 when two SA-7 missiles narrowly missed an Israeli passenger jet as it took off from Mombasa, Kenya. It's believed al-Qaida probably was behind the attack, which coincided with a bomb blast at a nearby hotel.

[Edited on 5-8-2004 by rassel]
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Old August 5, 2004, 01:10 PM
rassel rassel is offline
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Mohammed Hossain a Bangladeshi origin was one of the capture

Last updated: 9:18 a.m., Thursday, August 5, 2004

Editor's note: As part of its recently published special report on Albany's Central Avenue, the Times Union featured a profile of Mohammed Hossain, one of the suspects arrested Thursday during an FBI raid of the Masjid As-Salam mosque in Albany. Here is the text of that story.

Mohammed Hossain's journey to owning Little Italy pizzeria began in an unlikely place: Bangladesh.

Hossain and his wife, Mossamat, emigrated with their 1-year-old son, Abuhamza, from Bangladesh in 1985 in search of opportunity to lift themselves out of grinding poverty.

Their native tongue is Bengali and they arrived in this country knowing little English. Hossain worked as a dishwasher in diners, where he learned Greek and English. He gradually moved up to a position in the kitchen, with throwing pizzas being part of his repertoire. Nine years of saving allowed the family to rent a small storefront and open a pizzeria he called Little Italy in 1994. Adapting the menu to the neighborhood, they added fried chicken, hamburgers, beef patties, gyros and sweet potato pie. They eventually bought the building and moved into an apartment above the pizzeria with their five children.

When the kids -- who attend Annur Islamic School in Schenectady -- aren't using booths in the pizzeria as study tables, they do small jobs for their parents.

Except for a brief post-Sept. 11 backlash, business has grown steadily, and the couple has bought at public auction and fixed up income properties off Central Avenue.

''I'm proud to be an American,'' Hossain says. ''When I was in high school in Bangladesh, I looked at a map of America and I dreamed of coming to this great land. Since I've been here, opportunity has kissed my feet. Hard work has done the rest.''

Hossain has one regret he hopes to rectify soon.

''I'd like to sell the pizza shop and the houses and let my wife go back to college to get her Ph.D.,'' he says. She arrived in this country with a graduate degree in sociology but couldn't find work in that field, he explains.

''I feel guilty every day of my life,'' Hossain says. ''She has a master's degree and she works all day in a pizza shop. She should be out helping someone. Or teaching. I want to give her the chance to continue her education.''


source: timesunion



[Edited on 5-8-2004 by rassel]
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