Lawyers for Islamic Charity Urge Jurors to Ignore Politics

By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 19, 2007

DALLAS, Sept. 18 -- The leaders of what was once the nation's largest Islamic charity did sometimes sympathize with the anger, and even the actions, of extremists.

In one wiretapped call played at their trial here, one of the men describes a suicide bombing near Tel Aviv as a "beautiful operation." The group also invited guest speakers identified by prosecutors as leaders of the militant Palestinian group Hamas to appear at fundraisers.

But as the two-month terrorism-financing trial of the five officials of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development drew to a close here Tuesday, defense attorneys accused the government of trying to obtain a conviction based on the men's political sympathies rather than on any evidence of crimes.

"Association, association, association -- that's what the government wants you to convict them on," defense attorney Joshua L. Dratel said to jurors in closing arguments.

The trial of the five men, who are accused of sending more than $12 million overseas to charity organizations controlled by Hamas, is viewed as a test of the Bush administration's anti-terrorism policies. The defendants face counts of conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization, providing material support to a terrorist organization, conspiracy to launder money and other charges.

The aggressive efforts against the Holy Land Foundation began in December 2001, three months after the Sept. 11 attacks, when President Bush froze its assets.

But some Muslim advocates have criticized the prosecution of the Holy Land officials as an act of bias against Muslims and Palestinians in the United States. More than 300 individuals and organizations, some of them high-profile groups such as the Islamic Society of North America and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), have been named as unindicted co-conspirators in the case.

CAIR petitioned the court to be removed from the list of unindicted co-conspirators. The judge has not ruled on that request.

While both sides have warned jurors that they need not decide who is right and who is wrong in the Israeli-Palestinian divide in order to reach a verdict, the trial has been fraught with that conflict's tensions.

The central issue at trial is whether the Palestinian charities funded by the Holy Land Foundation were, in fact, controlled by Hamas, as Assistant U.S. Attorney Barry Jonas asserted in closing arguments. The United States designated Hamas a terrorist group in 1995.

They were "designed to win the hearts and minds of the people" for Hamas and "targeted" money for the families of militants who were killed, he said.

One of the most important government witnesses to support this contention was an officer with Shin Bet, Israel's domestic security agency.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company