(FinalCall.com) – The recent arrest of two Muslims, allegedly for plotting to assassinate the Pakistani ambassador, has sent shockwaves through New York’s state capital, normally a quiet city of 100,000 people.
“The mayor is adamant about everybody keeping their powder dry on this one,” Joe Rabito, executive assistant to Mayor Gerald Jennings, explained to The Final Call during an August 6 telephone interview.
Mohammed Hossain, 49, one of the founders of Masjid al-Salaam and Yassin Aref, 34, the Masjid’s imam, were arrested around 1:30 a.m. on August 5 by FBI agents and the Albany police for allegedly taking part in a scheme to buy a shoulder-fired missile launcher. Officials are also claiming that both men have “ties” to Ansar al-Islam. If convicted, the men could face 70 years in prison and a $750,000 fine.
However, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s office told reporters at a press conference that there was no plot to kill the ambassador. The launcher and assassination schemes were the “fabrication” of a convicted felon, who was secretly cooperating with federal prosecutors, allegedly to reduce his prison sentence on document fraud charges.
During the press conference, New York Governor George Pataki “called” on New Yorkers not to be afraid, but to keep their eyes open. The governor said the raid on the Albany mosque showed that government was doing its job in the war against terrorism.
Mayor Jennings left immediately after the press conference for Masjid al-Salaam, Mr. Rabito said.
“There is a very strong relationship between Muslim leadership here and the Mayor’s office, which has grown stronger since September 11, 2001,” Mr. Rabito noted, adding that the mayor was aware that Albany’s Muslim population was growing.
A spokesman at the press conference at Masjid al-Salaam told reporters that Albany Muslims wish to declare that they are against any and all forms of terrorism. “We are a peace-loving, law abiding people. The actions of a few individuals should not reflect upon our mosque or religion,” the spokesman reportedly said.
Alice Green, executive director of the Center for Law and Justice, said the arrest of the two Muslims raises concerns about personal freedom in the capital, which has been on the activist’s radar screen.
In 2003, the Albany City Council passed Resolution 63.52.03R, which called upon the U.S. Congress to “repeal” the Patriot Act “because of serious concerns regarding the federal government’s increased powers of surveillance upon its citizens and the effects of this expanded power upon fundamental rights and liberties.”
Gov. Pataki has bought into the Homeland Security program lock, stock and barrel, Ms. Green said. “We have a racial profiling problem in Albany, and the media is not helping because it is portraying those who may look different as the enemy,” she stressed. “And now, they have a so-called ‘sting operation,’ and two local Muslims are locked up; that is what the capital region chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has been fighting against.”
Melanie Trimble, executive director of the Albany ACLU, added “There are a lot of people here who are willing to stand up against government misbehavior.”
People are asking questions about the arrest, and people are afraid that it could happen to them, Ms. Green said. “There is fear in the streets, because people believe that they may be next.”