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Yemeni leader slapped with 5-year sentence

Published Dec 10, 2006 10:34 PM

Mohamed Albanna, a widely respected leader in the Western New York Yemeni and Arab communities, was sentenced here on Nov. 30 to five years in prison for failing to pay a licensing fee.

Mohamed Albanna in 2002.

Albanna, former vice president of the American Muslim Council of Western New York, has been a prominent spokesperson supporting the rights of the “Lackawanna Six”—six Yemeni men arrested in December 2003. Supporters charge the arrests were part of the hype for the Bush administration’s “war on terror.”

The infraction for which Albanna was sentenced to a five-year prison term would normally result in a fine. This adds to the belief that the charges against him were part of the government’s ongoing campaign of racism and intimidation against U.S. residents of Muslim and Middle Eastern backgrounds.

The court was obviously expecting the extremely large turnout of supporters. Identification was required, names were recorded, bomb-sniffing dogs were arrayed around the lobby. However, the courtroom used was one of the smallest in the building and half the supporters were refused any access to the proceedings.

The prosecutors, the FBI and big-business media continue to try to justify the injustice done to Albanna by hinting or suggesting that he might somehow be connected with what they term “terrorists,” although they admit there is no evidence whatsoever of such a connection.

In fact, Albanna’s “crime” was that he ran a hawala—a way for families to transfer money to relatives in Yemen. But that did not stop these false accusations or the brutal sentencing of this prominent Yemeni community leader to the maximum possible jail term—for an infraction that often results in a mere slap on the wrist for businesses.

A spokesperson for the Buffalo/Western New York branch of the International Action Center at Federal Court told media that the Bush administration’s lies, fear-mongering and racism can no longer convince workers and the poor to support the so-called Patriot Act, and that Western New Yorkers have begun to realize that the real terrorists are in the White House, Congress and the Pentagon.

She called for support for the Albanna family and the Yemeni community here, which has been targeted in an unending stream of injustices as part of the Bush administration’s “war on terror.”