The Department of Justice has no higher priority than fighting terrorism and keeping the American people safe, while protecting and safeguarding civil liberties guaranteed under our Constitution. The Obama Administration has aggressively used every lawful tool at its disposal to keep Americans safe – military, intelligence, homeland security, law enforcement, diplomacy and financial disruption. Ten years after the September 11th attacks, the Holder Justice Department has played a key role in the U.S. counterterrorism framework and has a proven track record of identifying members of terrorist networks, detecting and disrupting their plots, incapacitating terrorists through successful prosecutions and convictions, collecting valuable intelligence and sharing information with our state and local partners, and creating a dialogue through outreach to our communities, including the American Muslim community.
The terrorist attacks of 9/11 left an indelible mark on the United States and all Americans, but particularly New Yorkers. And their mark on the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York is most clearly reflected in the transformation of our national security program.
On June 11, 2003, shortly after the commencement of Operation Iraqi Freedom, a strike was ordered against a terrorist training camp in Al Rawah, Iraq, run by Ansar al Islam, a designated terrorist organization. Eighty enemy combatants were killed, and a partially declassified inventory showed that the camp held numerous weapons and ammunition, including mortars, rockets, rocket-propelled grenades, grenades, and mines, and that one body showed signs of preparation for martyr operations. Perhaps even more disturbing, among the “pocket litter” recovered from the camp was a notebook which contained the name Yassin Aref, and a telephone number with a 518 area code – Albany New, York! Although Aref was known to the Albany FBI as the imam of a local mosque, the discovery of his name and Albany telephone number in a terrorist training camp raised many questions. Was Aref just an acquaintance of a terrorist, or was he a terrorist sympathizer? Was he affiliated with the Islamic Movement in Kurdistan (IMK), the group from which the designated terrorist organization Ansar al Islam had splintered, or was he himself a member of Ansar al Islam? Further investigation showed additional worrisome links. Although Aref had changed his Albany telephone number, analysis of toll records for the number in the notebook showed that between 1999 and October 2001 fourteen calls had been made from it to a number in Syria that had been associated with terrorism (and which later was determined to belong to the IMK). Further, a document recovered in Syracuse, New York reflected that Aref was appointed in 1999 to represent the IMK in the U.S.
With the 10th anniversary of the attacks of 9/11, we pause to remember the victims. Events are scheduled throughout the country our state during September to honor their memory. But the best way to honor the victims is to prevent future attacks while maintaining the freedoms that make America worth protecting.