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According to Cohen, the typical FBI approach is, "This is a horrible crime. We know all of you are offended. We know all of you want to help us to rid America of terrorists, because terrorists make you look bad." Some Muslims tape-recorded Cohen's remarks; others took notes. Even the most intense FBI probes, Cohen charged, never violate the sanctity of houses of worship. "They've never done that at Saint Paddy's, they've never done it in my synagogue," he said. "They do it at mosques."
The bottom line, the lawyer emphasized, is to shut up. "If you tell them things that are inconsistent with information that others provide, you could end up not [being] charged with any other underlying crime, but arrested and indicted for perjury or obstruction of justice," he warned. "That's how many people in your community have been singled out in the last 10 yearsnot because they've committed crimes, but because people forget things, people's memories fail."
If the agents persist, ask them to put their questions in writing, Cohen advised. "They don't do that, because there [would be] a record of the truth, and they don't want a record of the truth," he alleged. Contact a lawyer, the attorney added. "I suspect that once you see the questions, you're gonna realize this has very little to do with these horrible crimes but much more to do with spying on your community," he said.
But the FBI has argued that its broad sweep of Arab and Muslim communities yields crucial evidence. Agents in a Dallas suburb arrested a Palestinian whose name turned up in the address book of of Wadih el Hage, a former personal secretary to Bin Laden. Ghassan Dahduli is appealing an immigration court deportation ruling for obtaining a work visa through fraud, authorities said. Dahduli's name surfaced in records introduced at El Hage's trial earlier this year. El Hage and three other Bin Laden disciples were convicted of conspiring to murder Americans.
Cohen dredged up the case of El Hage and Moataz Al-Hallak to illustrate his argument about guilt by association. He recalled that prosecutors tried to suggest there was a money-laundering conspiracy involving El Hage and Al-Hallak, a Texas-based imam whom he represented last week during questioning by a federal prosecutor in Washington.
"How were [El Hage and Al-Hallak] connected?" Cohen asked with a hint of sarcasm. "Really sinister." Cohen said that after El Hage was involved in a car accident several years ago, he won a $10,000 settlement from the insurance company. He decided to return to the Sudan and appointed Al-Hallak power of attorney. As requested, Al-Hallak accepted the check, put it in an account, wrote a check out to El Hage, and mailed it to him. "The story was that Moataz had sent money to Osama bin Laden," Cohen scoffed. "For a guy who's got $300 million, he needed the $10,000 from an insurance settlement."
Cohen also told the story of the FBI's attempt to link Al-Hallak to terrorists who may have tried to use a crop duster to wage chemical and biological warfare against the U.S. On Sunday, the government grounded crop-dusting planes across the country. It was the second time that agricultural pilots had been told not to fly since the attacks. Responding to questions about the latest grounding, the FBI said that it was one of the steps the bureau has taken out of "an abundance of caution" and "in reaction to every bit of information and threats received during the course of this investigation."
Three Middle Eastern men inquired about crop-duster planes during visits earlier this year to a single-runway airport in Belle Glade, Florida, The Washington Post reported Sunday night on its Web site. One of the men has since been identified as Mohamed Atta, believed to be one of the suicide hijackers in the terrorist attacks. The Post also reported that government investigators found a manual on crop dusters among the possessions of Zacarias Moussaoui, who currently is in federal custody.
Cohen said that about three years ago someone approached Al-Hallak, asking for his help in hiring a pilot to fly a crop duster for an agricultural project run by the then Sudan-based Bin Laden. Al-Hallak, according to Cohen, had no such contacts. But a few weeks later, Al-Hallak was introduced to someone who had some pilot training. He said Al-Hallak gave the pilot the name of the man who was spearheading Bin Laden's crop-dusting project. "Well, the two men got together," Cohen recalled. "They essentially turned this crop duster into a plane that somehow made it across to the Middle East. Although it broke down in Canada for six weeks, and in Britain for six weeks, the plane, eventually, with God as my witness, crashed of its own weight crop-dusting in the Sudan. That's the connection! The air force of Osama bin Laden."
In the aftermath of the attacks, a top FBI agent told reporters that the agency was looking for Moataz Al-Hallak for questioning. During his speech to the Muslims in Passaic County, Cohen maintained that agents knew all along where to find his client. "For days, they disseminated misinformation," he charged. After refusing to allow the FBI to interrogate Al-Hallak, Cohen spent six days "begging" federal prosecutors to intervene.