U.S. Magistrate David Homer said there was not enough evidence to hold Yassin Aref, 34, and Mohammed Hossain, 49, who were held without bail on Aug. 10 after pleading not guilty to money laundering, supporting a terrorist organization and conspiracy to assassinate a Pakistani diplomat.
In the wake of the arrest of the men, other Muslims in Albany — home to about 7,000 followers of Islam — have called the case a tragic misunderstanding and many have shied away from attending mosques for fear of being labeled terrorists.
Aref and Hossain were arrested in Albany after authorities said they agreed to help an FBI informant launder $50,000 from the sale of a shoulder-fired missile as part of a fake plan to assassinate Pakistan’s ambassador to the United Nations.
Homer released them on $250,000 bond each on Tuesday and ordered them to remain in home detention with electronic surveillance bracelets, but he was caustic in his remarks on the case the government built.
NO TERRORIST LINK
“As compared to Aug. 10, there’s no longer any presumption that Mr. Hossain would cause a risk of flight or danger to the community,” Homer said. “There still is no evidence of Mr. Hossain’s involvement with any terrorist organization.
The judge added: “The strength of the case against Mr. Aref appears less strong than it did appear on Aug. 10.
“There is no evidence … to support claims that Mr. Aref has any contact with any terrorist organization.”
The hearing was the second involving the pair associated with an Albany mosque and was granted after a possible translation error was found in key evidence against them.
At the time, U.S. authorities said the evidence included an address book found in what they called a terrorist training camp in northern Iraq that referred to Aref as “the commander” in Arabic. The Justice Department says FBI translators now read the word as “brother” in Kurdish.
The attorneys for the pair said the translation issue called for a re-examination of the entire case amid criticism that the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism policies have led authorities to leap to conclusions in cases that have fizzled or were dropped after initial high-profile announcements.
Defense attorneys argued the government was not merely overzealous in their prosecution but used “false information” against their clients.
“We’ve gone from something that sounded sinister and ominous and scary and terrible to zero in less than two weeks,” said defense attorney Terence Kindlon.
Prosecutors say whether the word is “commander” or “brother” is irrelevant and does not affect the criminal charges the two men face. They say the pair were willing participants in the sting operation set up by the FBI.