"The case of my client, Yassin Aref, is a similar story but like so many other Muslim cases, it involved a sting operation," she said. "A Kurdish Iraqi imam, Yassin came to Albany, NY as a UN refugee, and was soon targeted by the FBI for some reason. (As he discovered through a recent FOIA request, it appears they had him mixed up with an Al Qaeda operative who was later killed in 2010, after which Yassin was moved to a low security prison for the first time.)
"They sent a criminal con artist -- Shahed Hussain, also used in the Newburgh 4 case - to befriend a co-founder of the mosque where Yassin was imam. This man, Mohammed Hossain, ran a struggling pizza business and needed money, so he was happy to be offered a loan by the provocateur, who said he was a rich importer who wanted to help his Muslim brothers. At one point he showed Mohammed a missile tube and said this was one of the things he imported. Mohammed was shocked and refused to help transport the missile, but he didn't think it was connected to his loan, and he still wanted the money.
"Yassin was only brought in to witness the loan transaction as set forth in the Quran, something he often did for mosque members, who couldn't use banks because their religious beliefs forbade them from paying or charging interest.
"Yassin never saw the missile, and had no idea the loan he was witnessing was connected to terrorism. The government recorded 50 hours of conversations between the three men, and Yassin never said anything showing he understood this. Yet, because he was charged with material support for terrorism, the government was able to bring into his 2006 trial Yassin's 1999 diary and some speeches he made in Iraq in 1994, both of which showed Yassin's Islamist beliefs and contained criticisms of the West as immoral.
'While nothing there connected Yassin to terrorism, the evidence was damning in the post-911 environment of Islamophobia. Worse, there was a mountain of secret evidence (likely the erroneous FBI reports alleging Yassin was a member of Al Qaeda) which was all given to the judge, but which even the security cleared defense attorneys were not permitted to see. This resulted in the judge telling the jury that the government had "good and valid reasons" for targeting Yassin. While acquitting him of most of the charges, I believe the jury was afraid to let him go completely, and convicted him of a few charges.
"As for what can be done, there needs to be much more awareness of all this, and how it is destroying innocent families and terrorizing the Muslim community. The government strategy is spreading beyond Muslims too, as we have seen sting operations used against Occupy and peace activists, who have also been targeted in material support for terrorism investigations.
"Such abuses always begin by targeting the most vulnerable and, if not stopped there, they are applied to others and eventually to everyone. Professor Francis A. Boyle, the firebrand law professor from the University of Illinois, summed up the situation this way:
In post 9/11 America, if you are an Arab or a Muslim facing a terrorism charge, the American legal system functionally presumes you to be guilty as charged instead of innocent as constitutionally required.