Sometimes they put innocent men in prison. Yassin Aref is one of those men.
Originally published in 2008, but with renewed relevance for today’s international events, Son of Mountains is the story of a UN refugee who sought peace and freedom for himself and his family in America––and found just the opposite. It is the story of a Muslim imam entrapped in a phony “sting” concocted by the FBI, accused of aiding terrorism, and sentenced in 2007 to fifteen years in federal prison. And it is the story of an Iraqi Kurd––a “son of mountains”––who has struggled all his life just to survive.
Yassin grew up in poverty under the rule of Saddam Hussein; as a teenager, he sympathized with the peshmerga (Kurdish freedom fighters, who are now defending northern Iraq against the Islamic State) and risked his life opposing the dictator’s genocide against the Kurds. In 1995, Yassin married and made the wrenching decision to leave his beloved Kurdistan for Syria; four years later, he and his stateless family were given UN refugee status because of Kurdish repression there and sent to Albany, New York to begin a new life in America. An immigrant once more, Yassin was appointed imam of Masjid as-Salam (House of Peace), a small Albany mosque––until the 2004 FBI raid on the mosque and Yassin’s arrest tore his family, the community, and the city apart.
By the end of this extraordinary memoir, the reader will understand why Yassin is no terrorist––“I have always looked at my pen as my weapon. I consider myself a peshmerga, but I fight my battles with a pen”––and how grave an injustice has been done. Son of Mountains closes with a compelling essay by volunteer lawyer Stephen Downs that details how the government’s case against Yassin was not a “sting” but a frame-up––an elaborate fiction presented in court as fact––with lives, families, and Constitutional rights sacrificed to our post-9/11 climate of fear.