ALBANY, N.Y. – An indictment says two mosque leaders were trying to aid an impending assassination attempt on Pakistan's ambassador to the United Nations by exchanging money they thought was being used to purchase a shoulder-fired missile.
The 19-count indictment, unsealed Monday, charges Yassin Muhiddin Aref (search), 34 and Mohammed Mosharref Hossain (search), 49, with conspiring to launder money and promote terrorism. It did not provide details about allegations the men are tied to an extremist group linked to Al Qaeda.
Aref's lawyer, Terry Kindlon, said the entire case is based on government fabrication. "The facts of this case exist in the imagination of the government," he said.
There was no actual plot; it turned out that Aref and Hossain were dealing with an FBI informant.
The men were to learn Tuesday at a detention hearing whether they will remain jailed. Kindlon said his client should be freed on bail because he has no prior criminal history and does not pose a flight risk because his wife and three children live in Albany.
The indictment chronicles exchanges of money that authorities allege was for the fictitious sale of a disabled missile launcher. It claims that during a meeting February 12, the men believed the attack would take place the following week.
Both men have been jailed since last Thursday when federal agents conducted pre-dawn raids at their homes and the Masjid As-Salam storefront mosque in Albany.
Aref is the imam of the mosque and Hossain is one of its founders. Both Albany men are charged with money laundering and attempting to conceal material support for a terror organization.
Aref, a native of Kurdistan, and Hossain, who is from Bangladesh, face up to 70 years in prison if convicted.
Last week, law enforcement officials speaking on condition of anonymity said U.S. soldiers discovered documents at an Ansar al-Islam camp in northern Iraq last summer that referred to Aref as "the commander" and included his address and telephone number in Albany.
U.S. officials have said that Ansar al-Islam members are thought to be linked to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian militant whose network is blamed for attacks on U.S. forces and their allies in Iraq.
Ansar al-Islam members have trained in Afghanistan and provided safe haven to Al Qaeda members fleeing after the U.S. invasion there. Last March, the State Department declared the group a foreign terrorist organization.
The indictment does not mention Ansar al-Islam.
Aref and Hossain had been on the FBI's radar screen since last summer when Hossain approached an FBI informant about getting a fraudulent New York driver's license, according to an FBI affidavit.
In subsequent meetings, the informant led the men to believe they were taking part in the purchase of an RPG-7 grenade launcher for the assassination of Pakistan's ambassador to the United Nations.
Authorities said the men were paid $50,000 to purchase a missile and disguise the source of the money.