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Lawyer: Case against Muslim cleric is 'fantasy'

Says prosecution has 'racial, religious, cultural' overtones

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The FBI sting led to the arrests of two Muslim leaders.

New York Gov. George Pataki says the probe took months.
U.S. v. Aref and Hossain (FindLaw, PDF)external link
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)

ALBANY, New York (CNN) -- The attorney for a Muslim cleric accused of laundering money to aid terrorists called the government's case "fantasy" Friday and vowed to fully fight the charges.

"This case mostly exists in the imagination of an undercover agent, a snitch -- it strikes me as fantasy," defense attorney Terry Kindlon said.

"This case involves fantasy on the part of the government, this case involves questionable conduct on the part of the government, this case has racial, religious, cultural, political overtones, and I intend to examine those as energetically as I can."

Kindlon, an Albany attorney who has practiced law for more than 30 years, was assigned Friday to represent Yassin Aref, a 34-year-old Iraqi who is an imam, or prayer leader, at the As-Salam mosque in the New York capital.

Aref and mosque founder Mohammed Hossain, 49, were arrested Thursday on charges they laundered money that they had been told was from the sale of a shoulder-fired missile intended to be used in the assassination of Pakistan's U.N. ambassador. (Full story)

Kindlon said he is "coming into this case with a high level of skepticism."

He said he hopes to meet Aref for the first time this weekend.

A different attorney is representing Hossain.

The men are charged with laundering money, and conspiring to conceal support and resources for a terrorist organization.

According to the criminal complaint, an undercover FBI informant approached the two men about concealing tens of thousands of dollars -- money they were told was from the sale of the shoulder-fired missile.

Officials described Aref as a 34-year-old Iraqi citizen with asylum status who serves as imam at the mosque. Hossain is a 49-year-old member of the same mosque, a U.S. citizen and native of Bangladesh.

A teacher at the mosque, Faisal Ahmad, said Aref is a refugee from the Kurdish section of northern Iraq. Aref studied for a time in Syria before coming to the United States, Ahmad said.

Law enforcement sources said the men are believed to be connected to Ansar al-Islam, a terrorist organization previously based in northern Iraq with links to Jordanian terror suspect Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who U.S. officials believe has links to al Qaeda.

The attorney for a Muslim cleric accused of laundering money to aid terrorists called the government's case "fantasy" Friday.

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