[Ppnews] Muhammad Salah trial hears tapes of 1993 Philadelphia meeting

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Nov 17 08:33:33 EST 2006

Hamas-case jury hears tapes of 1993 Philadelphia meeting

By Jeff Coen
Tribune staff reporter

November 17, 2006

A federal judge Thursday refused to stop the trial of two men accused 
of activities supporting the militant Islamic Palestinian group 
Hamas, rejecting their attorneys' argument that an organization's 
meeting should be protected by the 1st Amendment.

Lawyers for Muhammad Salah of Bridgeview and Abdelhaleem Ashqar of 
Virginia moved for a mistrial after prosecutors began playing secret 
recordings of a 1993 meeting known as "the Philadelphia conference."

The gathering saw 20 supporters of Hamas, including Ashqar, 
discussing strategies for handling "the movement" in America and ways 
to influence the global perception of the Palestinian cause. The 
meeting was called after the Oslo peace accords between the Palestine 
Liberation Organization and Israel threatened to marginalize the organization.

Defense lawyers said the meeting, and what was discussed there, 
should be considered free speech.

"It is simply not illegal under our system of justice to have a 
disagreement about the Oslo peace agreement," said Ashqar's attorney 
William Moffitt. "It's an appropriate 1st Amendment activity."

Assistant U.S. Atty. Carrie Hamilton argued that was a view that 
jurors should hear in closing arguments, and U.S. District Judge Amy 
St. Eve said she already has ruled that the jury can hear the tapes. 
She denied the motion without making extensive comments.

Hamilton played for jurors a number of recorded talks made at the 
meeting. Salah's arrest in Israel early that year was mentioned, and 
media accounts of his alleged funding activities were dismissed as exaggerated.

Ashqar spoke in discussion groups about the goal of derailing the 
Oslo accords and gave a presentation about media goals. Those who 
attended could be heard saying they should be careful discussing 
Hamas, instead saying it backward as "Samah" or "sister Samah."

They discussed how Hamas was expected to be classified as a terror 
organization by the U.S. government, and decided to try to thwart 
that designation by organizing a generic Palestinian group as a cover.

In his presentation, Ashqar could be heard discussing how to use the 
media to shape public opinion. He also discussed the arrest of Salah 
at an Israeli checkpoint in the West Bank for funding the 
organization, saying it should be seen as a call for more precision 
and caution in operations.

Just because someone holds a U.S. passport, they are "not above the 
reach of law," he says on the recording.

Ashqar could be heard saying that the Oslo accords could weaken the 
movement and make things harder for its leaders.

"Your actions are now terrorism and not a resistance," he said. He 
also could be heard discussing "charity work," which he said should 
include providing sustenance to the imprisoned and the "families of martyrs."

In his cross-examination of an FBI agent who read some of the 
transcripts of the recordings, defense attorney Keith Spielfogel 
pointed out that the meeting took place in a hotel where attendees 
registered in their own names.


jcoen at tribune.com
Copyright (c) 2006, Chicago Tribune

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