A judge ordered the release of three Muslim men from prison, saying that the FBI used a “villain” of an informant to manipulate a group of Muslim men, the Associated Press reports. The manipulation entailed a fictitious plot to destroy military planes and synagogues in New York City’s suburbs. “Hopefully this will be the first step for the Justice Department to review all those cases of conspiracy and entrapment,” said Yassin Aref, a former imam who spent 14 years in federal custody in a case involving a business loan made to an Albany pizza shop owner and a made-up story about a Stinger missile. Aref and the shop owner were arrested in 2004 in one of several FBI stings carried out by a paid civilian operative named Shahed Hussain.
Four men arrested in 2009 and convicted of plotting deadly antisemitic attacks were eventually released on compassionate release when a judge said the FBI had sent a master manipulator “to troll among the poorest and weakest of men for ‘terrorists’ who might prove susceptible to an offer of much-needed cash in exchange for committing a faux crime.” The ruling resonated with defendants and attorneys in a case Hussain helped build in 2004 against two men involved with an Albany mosque, Aref and former pizza shop owner Mohammed Hossain. Aref and Hossain say they were innocent. “The government wanted to make me something big, to make me look like danger,” said Aref. When the FBI was not able to find real terrorists, he said, “then they created one.” Aref, 53, was deported after his prison sentence but says he bears no ill will. Hossain, 68, was released in 2020 and lives in Albany. “If I look back and I’m thinking about what has happened,” Hossain said, “it just makes me numb.”