[Ppnews] Muhammad Salah trial starts in Chicago

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Oct 23 08:52:41 EDT 2006

October 20, 2006


Trial Begins for 2 Charged With Aiding Terror Group


CHICAGO, Oct. 19 — Muhammad Salah spent four and 
a half years in an Israeli prison in the 
mid-1990’s after admitting that he had provided 
money and other aid to the Palestinian 
for use in attacks against 

Now, nearly a decade after Mr. Salah’s release, 
his lawyers are trying to convince a federal jury 
here that the confession, on which a federal 
racketeering case against him is based, was obtained through torture.

“What they want you to do is buy into Israeli 
torture,” Mr. Salah’s lawyer, Michael E. Deutsch, 
told jurors on Thursday in the trial’s opening 
statements. “You don’t have to accept a case based on torture.”

Mr. Salah, 53, a former grocer from suburban 
Chicago who now drives vans that transport 
dialysis patients for treatments, and his 
co-defendant, Abdelhaleem Ashqar, 48, a former 
university professor from suburban Washington, 
are charged with supplying financial support to 
Hamas’s military leaders. Prosecutors say they 
have evidence that the two men used United States 
bank accounts to funnel money to the group.

The indictment was announced in 2004 with much 
fanfare by the attorney general at the time, John 
D. Ashcroft, as part of the federal government’s response to terrorism.

Carrie E. Hamilton, an assistant United States 
attorney, told jurors in a packed courtroom that 
during the trial, which is expected to last three 
to four months, the government would show how Mr. 
Salah and Dr. Ashqar channeled money to Hamas’s 
military leaders during the early 1990’s. Because 
of their financial support for Hamas, Ms. 
Hamilton said, the two men were responsible for 
the group’s violent tactics against Israel.

“They’re on the outside,” she said, “helping 
people on the inside with Hamas’s terror.”

Mr. Salah, who was born in a Palestinian refugee 
camp on the West Bank and later became a United 
States citizen, has maintained that his 
involvement with Hamas was for humanitarian 
reasons only. When he was arrested in Israel in 
1993, the organization, which was founded in 
1987, existed mainly to provide social services 
to impoverished Palestinians, his lawyer, Mr. 
Deutsch, told the jury. The United States 
government did not label Hamas a terrorist organization until 1997, he said.

A “giving person” driven by a commitment to his 
Palestinian roots, Mr. Salah felt strongly about 
providing humanitarian aid to Palestinians, Mr. 
Deutsch said. And as a United States citizen, it 
was easy for him to travel to Israel and the 
occupied territories. All financial transactions 
related to Mr. Salah’s dealings with Hamas were 
done openly in his name and in his own checking account, he said.

Mr. Salah was arrested at an Israeli checkpoint 
in the Gaza Strip in 1993, where the police found 
$97,000 in his hotel room in Jerusalem. He later 
confessed to meeting with Hamas military leaders 
and giving them money, but defense lawyers said 
the confession was false and obtained only after 
Israeli secret police tortured Mr. Salah for more than 50 days.

“This is the Israeli secret police,” Mr. Deutsch 
told jurors. “They are notorious throughout the 
world for getting information through coercion and torture.”

Prosecutors, however, pointed to Mr. Salah’s 
confession as evidence that he was plugged into 
the highest levels of Hamas’s military 
organization, and Ms. Hamilton spoke of a 
different kind of interrogation. She called 
accusations of torture “outrageous” and said that 
a former New York Times reporter, Judith Miller, 
who witnessed part of Mr. Salah’s interrogation, 
would testify that she did not see any 
mistreatment. Two Israeli security agents, 
disguised and using aliases, are also expected to 
testify for the government in a courtroom cleared of public spectators.

Prosecutors said Dr. Ashqar, like Mr. Salah, was 
also part of an extended United States network 
that supported Hamas. Federal agents found a 
“treasure trove” of Hamas-related documents and 
minutes of high-level Hamas meetings in Dr. 
Ashqar’s home in Oxford, Miss., Ms. Hamilton 
said. Wiretaps of Dr. Ashqar’s telephones 
revealed that he was aware of Hamas’s violent 
tactics and that he gave money and support to the 
family of a suicide bomber, she said.
Dr. Ashqar’s lawyer, William Moffitt, portrayed 
his client, who came to the United States on an 
academic fellowship, as an intellectual who kept 
current on Palestinian issues. Enjoying the free 
speech afforded to him in this country, he met 
openly with others concerned about Palestinian 
issues, Mr. Moffitt told jurors.


CIA approached terrorism trial defendant about job as spy

AP Legal Affairs Writer

October 19, 2006, 6:38 PM CDT

CHICAGO -- A former university professor charged 
with plotting to bankroll Hamas terrorists was 
once asked by the Central Intelligence Agency if 
he wanted a job as a spy, his attorney told a jury Thursday.

Abdelhaleem Ashqar, 48, apparently never pursued 
the idea. But his defense attorneys say the offer 
shows federal agents were eager to recruit him 
for their side before doing an about-face and indicting him.

"They wanted to make him a spy," attorney William Moffitt told jurors.

Moffitt showed jurors a June 17, 1996, letter on 
CIA stationary telling Ashqar, then a 
post-graduate business student at the University 
of Mississippi, that he might want a clandestine services job.

"Operations officers serve overseas as collectors 
of information," the letter said. It told him to 
"tick the box below" to pursue such a job.

Ashqar, of Alexandria, Va., and suburban Chicago 
grocer Muhammad Salah, 53, are charged in a 
four-count racketeering indictment with 
furnishing thousands of dollars and fresh 
recruits to the Palestinian militant organization 
Hamas, which has been officially designated a 
terrorist group by the federal government.

The indictment was announced in August 2004 in 
Washington by then Attorney General John 
Ashcroft, who called the men prime movers in "a 
U.S.-based terrorism recruiting and financing 
cell." The trial is expected to take three months 
and expected witnesses include Israeli security agents.

Also charged in the indictment but absent and 
classified as a fugitive is Mousa Abu Marzook, 
described by federal officials as the deputy 
chief of the political section of Hamas -- which 
since winning an election last January has 
controlled the government of the Palestinian territories.

Ashqar is accused of funneling money destined for 
Hamas fighters in Israel in the territories 
through his U.S. bank accounts and making his 
home an archive of Hamas documents. Moffitt said 
in his opening statement that federal agents 
worked to get Ashqar to spy on fellow Palestinians.

The attorney said the FBI was trying to recruit 
Ashqar as an informant while the CIA was 
suggesting a job. He said one federal agency even 
offered to send him to the Mayo Clinic for a back ailment as a reward.

Moffitt said that when the job was suggested 
federal agents already had searched his house and 
found the documents and tapped his phone.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Carrie E. Hamilton said 
in her opening statement for the government that 
both Ashqar and Salah were pivotal figures in "a 
sophisticated global terrorist organization."

Israeli agents, appearing under aliases and in 
disguise, are expected to tell jurors how Salah 
was arrested in Israel in January 1993 and 
$97,000 in cash was found in his East Jerusalem hotel room.

While in Israeli custody, the tall, softspoken 
former grocer admitted that he had delivered 
thousands of dollars to Hamas military leaders.

The admissions are the core of the evidence 
against him and the basis for the racketeering 
indictment under which Salah and Ashqar are charged.

Salah attorneys say it is unfair that he is being 
tried for alleged crimes that sent him to an 
Israeli prison for 4{ years. But the principle of 
double jeopardy doesn't apply since he was convicted in a foreign land.

Salah attorney Michael E. Deutsch did tell jurors 
the reason Salah made the admissions was that he 
had been forced to strip and don a foul-smelling 
hood, deprived of sleep, handcuffed in a painful 
position and subjected to other tortures at the 
hands of Israeli interrogators.

"They're notorious throughout the world for 
getting information through coercion and torture 
-- the Israeli secret police," Deutsch said.

Both Moffitt and Deutsch portrayed the two 
defendants as men who funneled money not to 
terrorists but to the poor and the downtrodden of 
the West Bank and Gaza Strip suffering under Israeli occupation.

Deutsch told how Salah was born in a squalid, 
poverty-wracked West Bank refugee camp and lived 
there until he was 14 years old after his family 
was driven out of there homes by Israeli soldiers in 1948.

"They were doing what the Israeli government 
refused to do -- they were helping the people survive," Deutsch said.

Copyright © 2006, The Associated Press

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