ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Two mosque leaders convicted last fall after a terrorism-related sting have asked the trial judge to set aside the verdicts or else grant them new trials.
Yassin Aref, imam at an Albany mosque, and Mohammed Hossain, a pizzeria owner, were caught in a 2004 FBI sting involving a fictional terror strike. The government never accused the pair of actual violence, but said they participated in a money-laundering scheme that included an FBI informant posing as an illegal arms dealer.
In court papers filed Sunday, defense attorney Kevin Luibrand said the facts don’t support Hossain’s convictions. He argued they should be set aside because Hossain was entrapped, authorities induced the crime, the pizzeria owner had “no predisposition” to join in, and improper testimony from an unqualified prosecution expert witness made Hossain’s political affiliation appear sinister.
Hossain was convicted Oct. 10 on all 27 charges against him, including three counts of conspiracy. The jury, which deliberated over four days, found Aref guilty of 10 of the 30 charges against him.
Aref, a 36-year-old Kurdish refugee from northern Iraq, was also found guilty of lying to FBI agents about having known a terrorist leader, Mullah Krekar.
The federal informant asked Hossain to launder $50,000, saying it was from the sale of a shoulder-fired missile that would be used to kill a Pakistani diplomat in New York City. Aref, spiritual leader of Hossain’s mosque, acted as a witness to a series of transactions between the two men. Hossain said he had merely asked the informant for a loan.
Assistant U.S. Attorney William Pericek, who prosecuted the case, said it’s unlikely the trial judge would reverse himself and he doubted the motions would succeed on a later appeal to the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Judge Thomas McAvoy was careful about the defendants’ rights, he said, instructing the jury, for example, to consider the entrapment defense.
In court papers last week, defense attorney Terence Kindlon argued that FBI surveillance tapes showed Aref repeatedly said he could not support Jaish-e-Mohammed, or JEM, the Pakistan-based Islamic terrorist group that the informant claimed to support. “We feel the verdict didn’t make any sense,” he said.
The FBI has acknowledged Aref was the ultimate target of the sting, not Hossain. Luibrand declined to comment on whether prosecutors had offered Hossain a plea bargain.
Hossain, 51, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Bangladesh, could face 20 years in prison, Luibrand said.
The men are in jail, scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 12.