An imam and a mosque founder are accused in a terror-related plot.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Two leaders of a mosque in Albany, N.Y., were arrested on charges stemming from an alleged plot to help a man they thought was a terrorist purchase a shoulder-fired missile, federal authorities said today.
The men have ties to a group called Ansar al-Islam, which has been linked to the Al-Qaida terror network, according to two federal law enforcement authorities speaking on condition of anonymity.
U.S. officials have said that Ansar's 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.
The two arrests came as FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and other agents executed search warrants at the Masjid As-Salam mosque and two Albany-area residences late Wednesday and early today, officials said. The men were identified as Yassin Aref, 34, the imam of the mosque, and 49-year-old Mohammed Hoosain, one of the mosque's founders.
According to law enforcement officials, the two are being charged with providing material support to terrorism by participating in a conspiracy to help an individual they believed was a terrorist buy a shoulder-fired missile.
The individual was in fact working undercover for the government and no missile ever changed hands. Aref and Hoosain were allegedly involved in money-laundering aspects of the plot, the officials said.
The investigation has been going on for a year and is not related to the Bush administration's decision earlier this week to raise the terror alert level for certain financial sector buildings in New York and Washington, the officials said.
Concerns about terrorists using shoulder-fired missiles to take down commercial airliners were heightened in November 2002 when two SA-7 missiles narrowly missed an Israeli passenger jet as it took off from Mombasa, Kenya. It's believed Al-Qaida probably was behind the attack, which coincided with a bomb blast at a nearby hotel.
Last November, a shoulder-fired missile struck a DHL cargo plane at Baghdad International Airport, forcing it to make an emergency landing at the airport with its wing aflame.
The Homeland Security Department has contracted with three companies to develop plans for anti-missile systems that could be used to defend U.S. commercial planes against shoulder-fired rockets.
It's estimated that it would cost about $1 million per plane to install anti-missile systems. There are about 6,800 planes in the U.S. commercial fleet.
The Bush administration has been reluctant to pursue the technology, citing the cost and noting that other security measures adopted since the Sept. 11 attacks have diminished the threat against aircraft.
In a similar sting operation last year, a British arms dealer was arrested in New Jersey and charged with trying to sell a shoulder-fired missile to an undercover agent posing as a Muslim terrorist bent on shooting down a U.S. airliner.
More details about the case were expected to be released later today by the Justice Department in Washington.