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Bogus case against Yemenis unravels

Published Jun 13, 2005 8:58 PM

From Mumia Abu-Jamal to Leonard Peltier, political prisoners are no strangers to U.S. prisons. The so-called “war on terror” has served as a war of terror against the Arab and Muslim communities within the U.S. and abroad. From Guantanamo Bay to Abu Ghraib to immigration detention centers and federal prisons, it has meant the political imprisonment of Arabs and Muslims.

The cause of Palestine has been specifically targeted for persecution.

The case of Sheikh Mohammed al-Moayad and Mohammed Zayad, Yemeni citizens currently imprisoned in the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., after being kidnapped and brought to the United States, is one of the most egregious examples of the U.S. government’s abuse of the law, human rights and national sovereignty in the name of the “war on terror.”

Al-Moayad and Zayad were humanitarian activists in Yemen. Known as “Father of the Orphans,” al-Moayad established numerous charitable and community institutions, including bakeries that provided food to 9,000 indigent families, schools for boys and girls, medical clinics, computer training centers and mosques in his community in Yemen.

In addition, al-Moayad worked tirelessly for the rights of Palestinians, under occupation and in exile, raising funds to support Palestinian charities--funds that went to establish schools and provide food for Palestinian children. Al-Moayad is well-known and well-respected in Yemeni society, having served in Parliament and held various honorary positions. Mohammed Zayad was his assistant.

Testimony in the case indicated that neither was under any scrutiny by the Yemeni government or, for that matter, the U.S. government, until the appearance in al-Moayad's life of an informant named Mohamed Alanssi.

Prosecution based on paid informant

Mohamed Alanssi is a Yemeni who came to the United States and became known as a small-scale con artist. Fearing deportation after Sept. 11, 2001, Alanssi saw an opportunity both to regularize his immigration status and to profit financially, the defense committee for al-Moayad and Zayad reports. He offered his services as a confidential informant to the FBI, and gave them the name of a prominent Muslim leader: Sheikh al-Moayad.

Testimony and later press coverage (Washington Post, Nov. 21, 2004, "Informant's Fire Brings Shadowy Tale") would reveal that Alanssi made promises of spectacular information concerning millions of dollars in funding to al-Qaeda. He was sent to Yemen, where he ingratiated himself with al-Moayad and Zayad, eventually luring them to Germany by telling them that an American convert to Islam wished to provide a $2-million donation for their charitable projects.

In Germany, the man they met--a disguised FBI agent--acted oddly. In FBI recordings of their private conversations, entered into evidence in their trial, al-Moayad and Zayad discussed leaving Germany to return to Yemen. While they were suspicious of their "donor," they did not know they had walked into an FBI trap.

They were arrested and quickly extradited to the U.S. amid massive publicity and a John Ashcroft press conference heralding the capture of a major funding source for "al-Qaeda."

Alanssi’s network of lies soon began to collapse. He squandered his initial $100,000 FBI payoff, then demanded $5 million for his false testimony about al-Moayad and Zayad.

When the FBI refused, he set himself on fire in front of the White House.

Funds for Palestinian charities only

Without Alanssi’s unsubstantiated and false claims, Ashcroft’s charges soon fell apart. In court, the prosecution presented evidence only that Al-Moayad and Zayad had fund-raised for Palestinian charities, charities the U.S. labeled as “connected to Hamas,” a Palestinian resistance organization--the kinds of charges the U.S. government has used to shut down numerous charities working to help Palestinian children survive.

Fund-raising for Hamas’s charitable wing is entirely legal in Yemen, and also in Germany. Al-Moayad and Zayad had never fund-raised in the United States at all. But now they stood trial under a foreign legal system for supporting Palestinians--which was no crime at all in their homeland.

In the courtroom, the U.S. government’s criminalization of Arabs and Muslims was apparent. One prosecutor, addressing the judge and court reporters, referred to a verse from the Koran as “the terrorist verse.” A Palestinian American lawyer was delayed entry into the case because she was deemed “risky” as a foreign-born U.S. citizen.

The government introduced testimony that al-Moayad’s support for the right to return of Palestinian refugees was a sign of his “extremism.” Its tactics demonized Palestinian resistance in Palestine. A prosecutor cried in court when discussing a Palestinian resistance operation.

Moayad and Zayad were eventually acquitted of supporting al-Qaeda. But they were convicted of supporting Palestinian resistance groups--one of the many charges of “material support” that have been pursued by the U.S. government in its war on the Arab and Muslim communities within the U.S. and abroad, as it attempts to criminalize support for Palestine and terrorize the community into silence.

Al-Moayad and Zayad are currently awaiting sentencing. Community support is essential to seeing that justice is done for these men, for all political prisoners, for Arab and Muslim communities under assault and for Palestine. On May 13, a demonstration was held at the Metropolitan Detention Center. Another is being planned for the day of their sentencing. A longer discussion of the case, as well as a letter to the judge that can be signed in support of al-Moayad and Zayad, can be found at www.al-awdany.org

Charlotte Kates is an organizer with New Jersey Solidarity-Activists for the Liberation of Palestine as well as Al-Awda NY, the Palestine Right to Return Coalition, which is working to support these prisoners.