The FBI arrested Yassin Aref, 34, the imam, and Mohammed Hossain, 49, one of the founder’s of Masjid Al-Salaam mosque, in early morning raids of residences and the mosque.
The two were charged with concealing material support for terrorism and participating in a money-laundering conspiracy.
“This case is important because we hope it will send a disrupting message to those out there who might be plotting to harm people in this country, around the world,” Comey said at a news conference in Washington.
Federal law enforcement authorities said the men have ties to Ansar al-Islam, a radical Islamist group that the United States has accused of having links to al-Qaida.
The FBI investigation began in the summer of 2003 and involved the monitoring and recording of conversations between an unidentified informant — a non-U.S. citizen convicted for document fraud — and the two mosque leaders.
According to court records, the informant told the pair that he was working for Jaish-e-Mohammed, an Islamic extremist group based in Pakistan, and wanted to provide arms to his “brother mujahedeen” including the missile that the informant said would be used to kill the diplomat.
The informant proposed giving Hossain $50,000 to launder with the understanding that Hossain could keep $5,000. Hossain agreed to make it appear he had earned the money from rental properties and then recruited Aref to witness the laundering transactions. No weapons ever changed hands.
Both face up to 70 years in prison and a $750,000 fine, said Corney in a statement.
Hossain’s wife, Mossamat, tearfully defended her husband, saying he is a businessman, not a terrorist.
“It’s totally wrong and totally false and totally a lie,” she said.
Hossain came from Bangladesh in 1985. After years of washing dishes and doing other kitchen work, he bought a pizzeria, according to a profile published in 1994 by the Albany Times-Union newspaper.
“I’m proud to be an American,” he told the newspaper. “When I was in high school in Bangladesh, I looked at a map of America and I dreamed of coming to this great land.”
Aref came to the United States three years ago from Syria, where he was a student, according to his wife, Zuhor Jalal. Aref drives an ambulance besides his duties at the mosque.
“We come for freedom and job,” Jalal said.
Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings said the investigation into the incident would continue.