Two Muslims convicted in 2006 on terrorism-related charges will remain in prison after a federal appeals court on Wednesday rejected their appeal.
A three-judge panel of the Manhattan-based Second Circuit, U.S. Court of Appeals, ruled unanimously against Yassin Aref and Mohammed Hossain, who were convicted by a jury in October 2006 after a trial in the James Foley U.S. Courthouse in Albany.
Kevin Luibrand, Hossain’s lawyer, said the Second Circuit panel’s summary order dealt only briefly with the issue of entrapment, which was the heart of his case. “The decision itself does not seem to address the arguments that have been advanced,” he said.
A separate ruling by the appeals panel found that the trial judge, Thomas McAvoy, did not err in restricting access to classified information relevant to the case.
“We have carefully reviewed the classified information and the Government’s sealed submissions,” the three appeals judges ruled, “and agree with the district court that the Government has established a reasonable danger that disclosure would jeopardize national security.”
The next defense step, Luibrand said, will be to seek a hearing before all nine judges of the Second Circuit. If that is denied, or if a hearing is granted but the decision of the trial court is ultimately upheld, the next defense step would be a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court. That court would hear the case if one justice wanted to, Luibrand said.
Still, he said, the odds are now against the defendants prevailing either at the Second Circuit or the Supreme Court.
The FBI had conducted a sting operation in which a confidential informant represented himself as an arms dealer providing a missile to a terrorist group for an attack on the Pakistani ambassador to the United Nations in New York City. The informant’s testimony, and audiovisual recordings of conversations he had with Hossain and Aref, were the key pieces of prosecution evidence at the trial. The U.S. attorney’s office prosecuted.
The terrorist plot was fictitious but Aref and Hossain did not know that at the time of the investigation, and they were convicted of conspiracy and money laundering to further the purported plot. They were each sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Aref is a Kurdish immigrant who worked cleaning bathrooms at Albany Medical Center before becoming imam of a storefront mosque on Central Avenue. Hossain, who immigrated from Bangladesh and became a U.S. citizen, ran a pizza parlor in central Albany and was a member of Aref’s mosque. Both were married with young children.
The federal investigation targeted Aref after his contact information was found in three suspected terrorist camps in Iraq. Hossain was used by investigators as a way to get to Aref. The two men were arrested in 2004.
The defendants attracted widespread support in the Capital Region and beyond from civil libertarians, religious communities and others. They contended Aref and Hossain were entrapped and framed by aggressive federal authorities and did not clearly understand what the government’s informant was supposedly planning.
However, the appeals court determined that the evidence showed the two men thought they were going along with terrorist activity.
The U.S. attorney’s offices in Albany and Syracuse did not respond to calls for comment. Aref’s lawyer, Terence Kindlon, also did not respond to a call.
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