Intent of missile plot not lost in translation
FBI case juror says panel dismissed concerns that defendants were
By BRENDAN J. LYONS, Senior writer
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First published: Friday, October 13, 2006
ALBANY -- A federal jury that convicted two Muslim immigrants of
terrorism-related charges spent more than a day debating whether
the FBI had entrapped the men, according to a juror.
But the panel of six women and six men ultimately overcame their
questions about the FBI's sting case, agreeing that both defendants
became aware -- though months apart -- that they were laundering
money in connection with a terrorism plot that had been fabricated
by the FBI, the juror said.
On Tuesday afternoon, after nearly four days of deliberations, Mohammed
M. Hossain, 51, was convicted on all 27 counts of the indictment
against him. Yassin M. Aref, 36, the leader of their Albany mosque,
was found guilty on 10 of 30 charges.
Initially, the jury, which heard more than three weeks of testimony,
considered whether the defendants were guilty of all the charges.
But as their deliberations got under way, they debated whether the
men had been unfairly duped by the FBI's informant, a convicted felon
whose role in the investigation has been controversial.
Several jurors declined comment this week.
But one juror, who does not live in the immediate Capital Region
and spoke on condition he not be identified, told the Times Union
Thursday he has no regrets about the outcome.
"I think you had a couple people who were distrustful of law
enforcement and a couple distrustful of the government," he
said. "We took it slow and we explained all of our points to
each other and I think all of that went away. We all agreed at the
end, and we all agreed wholeheartedly."
He described their deliberations as detailed and thoughtful, and
said they had deep discussions about whether the men were entrapped,
including a last-minute debate on the day the verdicts were handed
Early on, he said, some jurors felt strongly that the men were set
up by the FBI and their undercover informant, a fast-talking Pakistani
immigrant who used the street name "Malik."
A few jurors grappled with the FBI's decision to lure the men in
slowly and under the guise of the informant legitimately loaning
money to Hossain. The informant did not immediately disclose that
the $50,000 he was giving Hossain was purported to be proceeds of
dealing illegal arms to terrorists.
Defense attorneys argued that connection was never made and the
informant was careful not to tell the men they were receiving money
from the illicit sale of a missile launcher.
"The whole issue was with regards to entrapment," the
juror said. "This comes mighty close, but to me I don't think
so. I think the government presented them with the opportunity and
they took it. ... The one thing I kept stressing was what if Malik
was for real."
The jury never was told why the FBI sting was launched. Federal
prosecutors disclosed in a pretrial memo that Aref was targeted because
U.S. troops found his name and former Albany address in three suspected
terrorist camps during the Iraq war.
In court, jurors were prohibited from hearing about that information.
Instead, U.S. District Judge Thomas J. McAvoy instructed the panel
that the FBI had a "valid reason" to go after Aref.
Until that disclosure, which occurred near the end of the trial,
jurors had assumed Hossain was actually the target, the juror said.
"Knowing a little more (now) about Aref's background, I can
see where they would approach him," he said, referring to information
he said he read about the case after it was over.
Aref was not drawn into the plot for months, and not by the FBI.
In December 2003, when the sting was nearly five months old, Hossain
asked Aref, who was imam of his mosque, to be a witness for a loan
from the informant.
By that time, the informant had already shown Hossain a shoulder-fired
missile and boasted about his "other business" supplying
weapons to terrorists. Aref was never shown the weapon, and no evidence
was presented that Aref and Hossain discussed any terror plots or
money laundering between themselves.
The jury could not initially agree on when Aref knew he was laundering
money from the sale of a missile launcher to terrorists. Federal
prosecutors argued that Aref knew about the plot by at least January
2004, when the informant showed Aref and Hossain a missile-triggering
device as he handed them $5,000 cash.
But a secretly recorded videotape of that meeting showed Aref counting
money and never appearing to look up when the informant pulled out
the foot-long triggering device. The informant briefly flashed it,
but there was no discussion about what it was, how it would be used,
or, any indication the defendants understood what they were being
"We never thought that he looked at it, and we never thought
that he acknowledged that it was there," the juror said.
The following month, the informant's recording device fell off at
a second key meeting when the FBI said he disclosed to Aref and Hossain
that a missile attack was going to take place the following week
in New York City. Aref immediately patted the informant's chest to
check for a recording device, according to a witness who was there
and testified at the trial.
The juror said he interpreted Aref's reaction as an indication Aref
understood what was unfolding. Aref testified he believed the informant
was crazy and he never took the terror threat seriously.
For the next several months, cash and checks were exchanged among
the three men as the FBI strengthened its money laundering case,
although Aref was acquitted on several counts related to those transactions.
The jury decided Aref finally knew about the informant's arms dealing
on June 10, 2004, when Aref and the informant discussed a possible
business partnership: buying Hossain's Central Avenue pizza shop.
During that meeting, which was recorded by the FBI and played for
jurors, the informant referred to a missile launcher using a code
word -- "Chaudry" -- as he talked to Aref.
"That Chaudry was going to New York to make that money, but
it didn't use," the informant said in difficult-to-understand
English, apparently referring to an aborted plan by terrorists to
kill a Pakistani diplomat in Manhattan. "When it happens, I
have to leave this country for two months, and then, you know, I'll
just go away."
"No problem, no problem, that's no problem," Aref responded.
At another point, the informant told Aref "they use the Chaudry
on 142" -- which federal prosecutors said was a reference to
the United Nations building at the corner of First Avenue and 42nd
Street in Manhattan.
During the trial, defense attorneys established that nowhere in
more than 50 hours of recorded conversations did the informant tell
Aref that "Chaudry" was a code word for "missile." The
informant only had conversations with Hossain about the use of that
code word, according to testimony.
Despite that, the juror said the panel decided that during the June
10 conversation Aref knew what was unfolding, and they convicted
him of conspiracy and money laundering counts based on his actions
from that day until his arrest on Aug. 4, 2004, when the sting ended.
Aref took the stand and testified in his own defense. At first,
jurors were stonefaced as he testified, but after several days on
the stand many jurors smiled at Aref at various times, including
when he poked fun at his habit of giving long answers.
The juror interviewed by the Times Union said his personal view
is that Aref was calculating in his testimony and his claims of language
barriers fell short.
"The guy's college-educated and he speaks three languages,
and I think he had a pretty good command of the English language.
I think he knew what a missile was," the juror said.
At 4 p.m. Tuesday, after the panel had voted and recorded their
verdicts, they told a court clerk they were ready but asked for 30
minutes to "to sit and see if anybody had any doubt, and nobody
did," he said. "I can tell you that nobody cried, but there
were a lot of feelings. We knew this is going to affect 14 people
between (the defendants and their) wives and kids."
Lyons can be reached at 454-5547 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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