Muslim arrests remembered, protested at Albany mosque

ALBANY – Eight years ago, on August 4, 2004, FBI agents in Albany took a Muslim religious leader and a pizza shop owner into custody, charging them with conspiracy and money laundering in a scheme that allegedly supported a foreign terrorist organization.

Those men were convicted and sent to prison.

On Saturday night, supporters took part in a march to say, those men are not forgotten.

After the highly publicized FBI sting operation , Yassin Aref and Mohammed Hossain were sentenced to fifteen years in federal prison. To this day, many people believe the government targeted them because they are Muslim, entrapped them, and took their lives away.

Most of the people involved in Saturday night’s march up Central Avenue in Albany were not Muslim. It was a cross section of faiths, but what they really all had in common was a lack of faith in their own American government, which is what they believe to be the lesson of the Aref/Hossain case.

“The government can take down anybody at any time they want to,” said Stephen Downs, executive director of Project Salam, “As long as they’re willing to lie, and cheat, and manufacture evidence as they do here in these cases, all of us are at risk.”

At the Masjid As-Salam mosque, where Yassin Aref was an imam, the theme for the evening was preemptive prosecution, the perception that the government targets particular groups, in this case Muslims.

“It’s very serious,” said Mabel Leon of Schenectady, a member of Grannies for Peace, “I want a better world for my grandchildren.”

Ed Bloch, 88, of Latham, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance, broke out in a chorus from Rogers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific that he felt fit the occasion: “To hate all the people your relatives hate, you’ve got to be carefully taught.”

Among the people who have been “carefully taught” are the children of Yassin Aref.

“My father got arrested when I was five years old,” said Raiber Muhiddin, Aref’s son, soon to be 12. “Now I just know that the government is corrupt. It’s not really the free land that it’s said to be.”

“Before that happened (my father’s arrest), I didn’t know something like this would happen in America,” said Kotcher Muhiddin, Aref’s 15-year old son. “I didn’t know they would take people that were innocent.”

Stephen Downs believes what happened to Hossain and Aref could happen to him in the blink of an eye. He also believes the success of the march can’t be denied.

“Typically somebody gets locked up and people say it’s an injustice and then you forget about it,” Downs said. “This case isn’t getting forgotten about.These marches get bigger, they’re drawing more people and other people are organizing marches themselves across the country.

Downs points out the government has locked up more than two hundred Muslims in this country who he believes have been preemptively prosecuted.

According to the Muslim Solidarity Committee, Yassin Aref, while in prison, obtained his FBI file through a Freedom of Information request, and in that file, they say, was evidence that suggests Aref is a victim of mistaken identity.

Aref has now been transferred from Illinois to a Pennsylvania prison and his sons say they visit their father about once every couple of months.

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