ALBANY, New York (Reuters) – A U.S. federal jury on Tuesday convicted two Muslim men charged with participating in a plan set up as part of a sting operation that was supposed to involve killing a Pakistani diplomat.
Yassin Aref, 36, and Mohammed Hossain, 51, were accused of conspiring to provide material support to the Pakistan-based Islamic militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed, which is labeled a terrorist organization by the U.S. government.
Prosecutors had argued at trial that the men were driven by ideology and money, while defense lawyers countered that they were either entrapped by zealous prosecutors or were the victims of post-September 11 racial profiling.
Aref, an Iraqi Kurd, was an imam at an Albany mosque and was in the United States as a refugee. He was convicted on 10 counts including conspiracy, money laundering and providing material support to a terrorist organization. He faces up to 20 years in
jail after which he will be deported to Iraq.
Aref was also found guilty of falsely telling the FBI after his arrest that he did not know Mullah Krekar, founder of the Islamic Movement in Kurdistan and now a leader of Ansar al-Islam, an Iraqi insurgent group the United States has linked to al Qaeda. He was found not guilty of certain money laundering charges.
Hossain, a U.S. citizen and pizzeria owner originally from Bangladesh, was convicted on all counts against him including conspiracy, money laundering and providing material support to a terrorist organization. He faces up to 20 years in jail.
Both men showed no emotion as the verdict was read in the packed courtroom. Sentencing was set for February 12.
The two men were charged with laundering $50,000 from an FBI informant who said he worked for the militant group and received the money from selling a shoulder-fired missile.
The ruse was part of a sting operation that pretended the Pakistani ambassador to the United Nations was the target of an attack in New York.
“These are not people we need in this country,” U.S. Attorney Glenn Suddaby told reporters after the verdict outside the courthouse.
The prosecution portrayed Aref as a radical Muslim affiliated with known Islamist militants while working at the Islamic Movement in Kurdistan, including Krekar.
“I still can’t believe that the government can do this,” Hossain’s lawyer Kevin Luibrand said, adding that he felt the government was targeting innocent Muslims in sting operations.
Sure, Mr. Luibrand. People accept the invitation to be party to the assassination of international diplomats all the time.