A rally is planned for downtown Albany late this afternoon to mark the 10th anniversary of the arrests of two Muslim men trapped by a government sting.
Activists have long insisted that the terrorism case against Albany residents Yassin Aref and Mohammed Hossain dating back to 2004 was more of a "frame-up" than a sting. The two are serving 15-year federal prison sentences for their involvement in an alleged money-laundering incident tied to the sale of a fake shoulder-fired missile.
Joe Lombardo, with Bethlehem Neighbors For Peace, says the terror case played out under the shadow of 9/11, when it seemed every Muslim was suspect, and, along with cases like "The Fort Dix Five" and "The Newburgh Four," Albany made global headlines. "The governor came, Senator Schumer came, the mayor came, they held this big conference about terrorists being found in Albany. I came right to the mosque here. And there were international media from all over the world showing the mosque where these terrorists were. And it built up this case for terrorism which built up the US case for war."
Supporters of the Imam and the pizza-maker have been trying for years to get the two released - without success. Dr. Shamshad Ahmad is president of the Masjid As-Salam mosque. "We had been trying all legal means. But from the day one we knew that the hope of bringing them back here is almost nil. At least I've had that perception from the very beginning."
Even local politicians got involved: former Albany Common Council member Dom Calsolaro sponsored the “Albany Resolution” (passed by the Common Council in 2010), which urged the U.S. Department of Justice to review the convictions of Muslims who were "pre-emptively prosecuted" to ensure their fair treatment under the Constitution.
At 4:30 this afternoon supporters plan to assemble at the Washington Avenue Armory, at the corner of Lark Street and Washington Avenue, then march at 5 p.m. up Central Avenue to the Masjid As-Salam, which was raided on August 4, 2004 as part of the sting that led to the conviction of Aref and Hossain in 2006.
Aref supporter Jeanne Finley details what the public can expect from today's action: "A rally, a march and a short play. The play is called 'To Catch A Muslim,' written by Aref defense attorney Steve Downs who will also perform as Hossain. The play takes a very darkly humorous look at the sting that entrapped the two men with use of a paid informant who was himself a criminal, and led to their convictions. At the press conference after the trial in 2006, the US Attorney stated there was no evidence of terrorism in this case, since the men's convictions were based on a scripted sting operation, meaning that the parameters of the sting were fake. We continue to ask and will continue to ask until they are released, if Yasin Aref and Mohammed Hossain are not terrorists, then why are they in prison?"
Neither the Albany FBI office or the US Department of Justice immediately responded to requests for comment