[Ppnews] Federal Jury in Chicago Acquits Two Men of Terror Charges

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Feb 1 19:05:36 EST 2007


Mixed verdict for Hamas suspects

Tribune staff reporters

February 1, 2007, 3:14 PM CST

A federal jury in Chicago this afternoon reached 
a split verdict in the case of a Bridgeview 
businessman and another man accused of aiding the 
radical Palestinian group Hamas.

Jurors acquitted former local grocer Muhammad 
Salah and Abdelhaleem Ashqar of racketeering 
conspiracy but convicted them of lesser charges.

There was an audible gasp of "Oh!" from the 
defendants' supporters in the courtroom as the 
not-guilty verdict in the most serious counts was 
read. Salah appeared to fight back tears and, 
later, outside the courtroom, he and Ashqar were 
embraced by family and friends.

Jurors deliberated three weeks before reaching a 
verdict in the three-month trial.

Defense attorneys immediately declared victory in 
the case that the government had described as a 
major component in its war on terrorism.

"This is a great day for justice,'' said defense 
attorney Michael E. Deutsch, who represented Salah in the trial.

After the verdict was read, First Assistant U.S. 
Attorney Gary Shapiro said: "We've convicted them 
­ it's hard to say that we're disappointed.''

Salah was convicted of obstruction of justice for 
giving false answers to questions he was asked in a civil lawsuit.

Ashqar was convicted of criminal contempt and 
obstruction of justice for refusing to testify 
before a federal grand jury when he had been 
given immunity from prosecution for anything he might say.

They face probation to 10 years in prison when they are sentenced.

Salah, 53, was accused of using his U.S. 
citizenship to facilitate the transportation of 
hundreds of thousands of dollars to militants in 
the West Bank and Gaza in the early 1990s.

Abdelhaleem Ashqar, 48, a former university 
professor from suburban Washington D.C., was 
accused of acting as a Hamas archivist who 
collected key documents and facilitated 
communication among Hamas member around the globe.

A large amount of evidence gathered in the case 
came from wiretaps and raids conducted in the early-1990s by FBI agents.

The evidence was collected under the Foreign 
Intelligence Services Act, which permits the 
gathering information against people suspected of 
being agents of a foreign government.

The primary evidence against Salah, however, was 
a confession he provided to Israeli agents in 
1993, after he was arrested at a Gaza checkpoint 
and accused of providing money for Hamas members.

Statements Salah made in Israeli custody linked 
him closely to the hierarchy of Hamas, including 
top Hamas official Mousa Abu Marzook.

Prosecutors provided bank records that showed 
Marzook, a fugitive living in Damascus, sent 
Salah nearly $1 million in the early 1990s.

That money was intended to fund violence, prosecutors alleged.

The defense responded it was meant to aid 
destitute Palestinians living under an oppressive occupation.

Salah personally delivered some $240,000 into the 
hands of militants, prosecutors alleged. When he 
was captured outside Gaza, he had $100,000 in 
cash in his hotel room in Jerusalem.

Deutsch, urged jurors to reject Salah's 
confession, arguing it was extracted after 54 days of torture.

Two Israeli interrogators, testifying under 
aliases, swore during the trial that Salah was 
well-treated in custody, in part because he was a high-profile U.S. citizen.

The testimony of "Captain Nadav" and "Benny" 
marked an unprecedented event in a U.S. court. 
Never before had two agents of the Israeli 
security agency given sworn testimony in a U.S. courtroom.

U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve ordered her 
courtroom closed to the public for the testimony 
and ruled that the men could wear light disguises if they chose.

The agents described a compliant and cooperative 
Salah trying to trade information about Hamas for 
the release of Hamas members from Israeli prisons and other benefits.

Based on his confession, Salah spent four years 
in an Israeli prison before returning to Bridgeview.

The U.S. government has dubbed him a 
"specially-designated terrorist" since his return.

The Associated Press contributed.

Copyright © 2007, <http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local//>Chicago Tribune

Federal Jury Acquits Two Men of Terror Charges for Hamas Links

By <http://projects.washingtonpost.com/staff/email/dan+eggen/>Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 1, 2007; 5:38 PM

A federal jury in Chicago acquitted two men today 
of charges that they were part of a 15-year 
conspiracy to finance Hamas activities in Israel 
-- marking the second recent defeat for the 
Justice Department in cases involving a Palestinian terrorist group.

Abdelhaleem Ashqar, 48, a former Howard 
University professor who lives in Springfield, 
and Muhammad Salah, 53, a former grocer from 
suburban Chicago, were found not guilty of 
racketeering conspiracy, the most serious charge 
against them that could have drawn life sentences.

But the two men were convicted of separate 
charges of obstruction of justice, which carries 
a penalty ranging from probation to five years in prison.

The defendants and their attorneys immediately 
characterized the verdicts as a victory and said 
it showed the government had overreached in its 
attempts to punish opponents of the Israeli state.

"It was better than we thought," a tearful Salah 
told reporters in Chicago. "We are good people, not terrorists."

Salah's attorney, Michael Deutsch, called the 
verdict "a tremendous victory" and said he "may not even go to prison at all."

"This rejects the idea we can criminalize someone 
for resisting an illegal occupation in another country," Deutsch said.

The prosecution of Ashqar and Salah was deemed so 
important to the Justice Department that the 
original 2004 indictments were announced by 
then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, who said 
that "terrorists have lost yet another source of 
financing for their bombs and bloodshed."

But the final outcome of the case is decidedly 
mixed, and came after three weeks of deliberation 
by the Chicago jury. It also marks the second 
time in recent years that the Justice Department 
has attempted to prosecute U.S. residents for 
support of militant Palestinian organizations 
before they had been designated as terrorist groups.

In a high-profile case in 2005, a jury in Florida 
acquitted former computer professor Sami al-Arian 
of eight terrorism charges and deadlocked on nine 
others. Arian eventually pleaded guilty to 
supporting members of the Palestinian Islamic 
Jihad, and is slated to be deported after finishing a short prison term.

One of Arian's attorneys, William Moffit, also 
represented Ashqar in the current Chicago case.

"After trying this and the Sami al-Arian case, 
I'm now convinced an American jury will not put 
someone in prison for fighting for their freedom," Moffitt said.

Justice Department officials did not immediately 
comment on the verdict. The case was prosecuted 
by the office of U.S. Attorney Patrick J. 
Fitzgerald, who is in the spotlight as the 
special prosecutor in the Washington trial of 
Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

Staff writer Kari Lydersen in Chicago contributed to this report.


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