Dominick Calsolaro

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Terror case bias alleged

Albany council members call for Justice Department review of FBI prosecutions of Muslims

Published on 4/30/2010 by the Times Union written by KATIE BRANDENBURG, Hearst Newspapers

WASHINGTON -- Two Albany Common Council members on Thursday urged the Department of Justice to review terrorism cases that they say unfairly targeted Muslims.

They hope to get city councils around the nation to join with them in calling for an independent panel to review cases of Muslims convicted through "pre-emptive prosecution," a federal law enforcement tactic of conducting sting operations against Muslims in the United States suspected of having terrorist links.

Council members Dominick Calsolaro and Barbara Smith spoke at the National Press Club about a resolution the council approved April 5 that condemned the practice and requested that the Justice Department review it.

The resolution describes "pre-emptive prosecution'' as an FBI program in which Muslims not involved in criminal activity are targeted and then prosecuted based on electronic surveillance and other "secret'' evidence.

In a 2009 report, the Justice Department's inspector general said a review of past terrorism cases should be considered to see if Muslims were unfairly targeted.

The Albany resolution was spurred by the 2006 conviction of two Albany men for money laundering and conspiracy to aid in terrorism. The men, Yassin Aref and Mohammed Hossain, both Muslims, were arrested after their involvement with an undercover operative working for the FBI.

During their trial, the defendants argued the FBI lured them into a crime they wouldn't otherwise have committed. The sting involved laundering money from the sale of a surface-to-air missile.

Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said he was unfamiliar with the Albany resolution and had no immediate comment.

The council members were joined at the press conference by Albany resident Lynne Jackson, who had lobbied for the resolution. Jackson, a volunteer with Project SALAM, a legal advocacy group for Muslims, said the convictions in Albany are just one example of Muslims who have been convicted before crimes have been committed.

"At some point I believe it will reach a critical mass when the reality is undeniable that something really bad, something really, really bad and really illegal is going on," Jackson said.

Smith said members of the Albany council are considering how best to get other local governments to pass similar measures, and she has been in contact with city council members in Syracuse.

Calsolaro has written a letter to the President Obama about the issue and is waiting for a reply. He said the arrests of Aref and Hossain, which he called a clear case of entrapment, spread fear not only among Muslims, but throughout Albany.

The administration of George W. Bush, he said, "governed from fear, and when you rule with fear you have to have the monster under the bed. You have to have a reason for that fear, and for whatever reason they decided that the monster had to be the Muslims.''

Overall, the Justice Department prosecuted 289 defendants in terrorism cases between 2001 and June 2009, according to the nonprofit advocacy organization Human Rights First. Defendants were convicted of at least one charge in 195 of those cases.