updated 8/10/2004 3:35:58 PM ET 2004-08-10T19:35:58

Pakistan is protesting an FBI sting operation in which two leaders of an Albany mosque were accused of participating in a plot to assassinate the country’s ambassador to the United Nations.

There was no assassination plot. An FBI informer who said he was an arms dealer asked the two suspects to launder money for profit from the sale of a shoulder-fired missile that would be used to kill the diplomat in New York City, according to the federal complaint.

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Masood Khan, condemned the FBI sting operation, saying it was bizarre and dangerous.

“This has increased our ambassador’s and our mission’s vulnerability ... and could have endangered the life of our ambassador,” Khan said in a statement. He said Pakistan had filed a protest with the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad.

Al-Qaida link alleged
A 19-count indictment, unsealed Monday, charges Yassin Muhiddin Aref, 34, and Mohammed Mosharref Hossain, 49, with conspiring to launder money and promote terrorism. It did not provide details about allegations that they were tied to an extremist group linked to al-Qaida.

Aref’s lawyer, Terry Kindlon, said the entire case was based on government fabrication. “The facts of this case exist in the imagination of the government,” he said.

A detention hearing was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.

The indictment chronicles exchanges of money that authorities allege was for the fictitious missile sale. It claims that in a meeting Feb. 12, the men believed the attack would take place the next week.

Authorities said that the men were paid $50,000 and that Hossain was to disguise the source of the money by writing checks back to the informer from his businesses, which include rental properties.

Both men have been jailed since Thursday, when federal agents conducted pre-dawn raids at their homes and the Masjid As-Salam storefront mosque in Albany. Prosecutors opposed bail, saying that both men posed a flight risk and that the plot involved violence.

Kindlon said his client should be freed on bail because he had no criminal history and did not pose a flight risk because his wife and three children lived in Albany.

Documents in Iraq cited
Aref is the imam of the mosque, and Hossain is one of its founders. Both men are charged with money laundering and attempting to conceal material support for a terror organization.

Aref, a native of Kurdistan, and Hossain, who is from Bangladesh, face up to 70 years in prison if convicted.

Last week, law enforcement officials said on condition of anonymity that U.S. soldiers discovered documents at an Ansar al-Islam camp in northern Iraq last summer that referred to Aref as “the commander” and included his address and telephone number in Albany.

U.S. officials have said Ansar al-Islam members are thought to be linked to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian militant whose network is blamed for attacks on U.S. forces and their allies in Iraq.

Ansar al-Islam members have trained in Afghanistan and provided safe haven to al-Qaida members fleeing after the U.S. invasion. In March, the State Department declared the group a foreign terrorist organization.

The indictment does not mention Ansar al-Islam.

Hossain had been on the FBI’s radar screen since last summer, when Hossain approached an FBI informant about fraudulently obtaining a New York driver’s permit for a relative, according to an FBI affidavit.

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