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ALBANY – The long-awaited trial of two Albany Muslims snared in a money laundering-for-terrorism sting got under way yesterday in federal court, where the legal and moral connotations of entrapment were a persistent undercurrent. In his introductory charge, Senior Northern District Judge Thomas J. McAvoy instructed the jury that prosecutors must prove as a legal matter that Mohammed M. Hossain and Yassin M. Aref were predisposed to commit the crimes they were afforded an opportunity to commit by the government – a burden Assistant U.S. Attorney William C. Pericek readily embraced in his opening. But defense attorneys Kent B. Sprotbery and Kevin A. Luibrand quickly made clear that it will be a hard-fought battle, suggesting their clients while struggling to realize the American dream were illegally induced by a convicted felon enlisted as a secret informant. U .S. v. Yassin Aref and Mohammed Hossain, 04-CR-402, has attracted national attention since the Albany pizza shop owner and the imam of a local mosque were arrested by federal authorities two summers ago. Mr. Aref, the 36-year-old spiritual leader who came here via Northern Iraq and Syria, and Mr. Hossain, the pizza proprietor who emigrated from Bangladesh 20 years ago and has been a U.S. citizen for a decade, were collared in 2004 following a year-long government-orchestrated sting. Court records show that the operation began about one year earlier, when a Pakistani immigrant arrested on unrelated charges visited Mr. Hossain’s pizza shop as a wired government agent. The informant initially posed as a wealthy businessmen interested in buying the restaurant, but eventually pretended to be an arms dealer. He offered Mr. Hossain what amounted to a money laundering deal, where the target would launder the proceeds from a surface-to-air missile in exchange for a cut. Mr. Hossain was shown the missile, an acknowledged weapon of mass destruction, and told it would be used to carry out a terrorist plot in New York City. However, he apparently went along with the money laundering deal without informing authorities. Mr. Aref, whom authorities say was the initial prime target, entered the picture after Mr. Hossain and the informant had met several times. The imam had become a target because his name and address were found in a notebook at a bombed Iraqi encampment that authorities say was frequented by terrorists. Mr. Aref’s role, apparently, was to serve as something of a notary. Since Islamic law forbids either charging or collecting interest, lending in the Muslim community is often carried out among members of that community, with the transactions reduced to writing and documented by a witness, attorneys said. In this case, Mr. Aref fulfilled that role. A 30-count indictment accuses both men of conspiring to launder funds that they had reason to believe were the proceeds of an illegal arms sale. Three of the counts apply only to Mr. Aref, and center on allegations that he lied to immigration officials about his connections to an Islamic terrorist group. Mr. Pericek told the jury that the case distills to what the defendants believed and what they intended, acknowledging that the arms deal was merely a ruse to ensnare the targets. Taped conversations The prosecutor indicated he will rely heavily on statements from the defendants-virtually all of the dealings between the suspects and informant were secretly taped-to establish that they were predisposed to commit the crimes with which they are charged. For instance, he said that after Mr. Hossain was shown the missile, he commented “good money can be made from this, but it is not legal.” Additionally, two weeks later, according to Mr. Pericek, Mr. Hossain warned the informant to speak cautiously because “walls have ears.” Mr. Pericek admitted that Mr. Aref never profited from the alleged money laundering, while Mr. Hossain made $5,000. His case against Mr. Aref seems to rest in part on the defendant’s political ties and diary entries memorializing those allegiances. Mr. Sprotbery, who represents Mr. Aref along with Terence L. Kindlon of Kindlon & Shanks in Albany, admitted that after his client fled from Iraq he spent several months doing clerical work for a political organization that is among the designated terrorist groups. However, he insisted his client is no terrorist. Mr. Luibrand, of Tobin & Dempf in Albany, portrayed Mr. Hossain as a loyal American, “living his life under the law and bothering no one,” until the government came along with a perplexing offer. He noted that in one taped conversation with the confidential witness, the government’s own agent-two weeks after displaying the surface-to-air missile-told Mr. Hossain there was nothing wrong or illegal about their financial arrangement. “This government agent, who was carefully controlled by the FBI . . . told him it was legal,” Mr. Luibrand said. Mr. Luibrand said that a transcript shows that after being told his actions were legal, Mr. Hossain commented to the informant: “This is good, what you say now, this is good.” The trial is expected to last around 10 days. John Caher can be reached at [email protected]

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