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Mistrial Declared in Islamic Charity Case

"The difficulty the government has had in getting convictions in these cases suggests to me that there is something wrong with the process and the targets of the closures," he said.

During the trial, prosecutors charged that the men had essentially operated as part of a Hamas conspiracy. According to prosecutors, the charity work funded by the foundation, which included aiding schools and donating food and medicine, was done in the name of Hamas and helped the group win a campaign of "hearts and minds" among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

They presented evidence showing that the Holy Land officials sometimes sympathized with the anger, and even the actions, of extremists.

In one wiretapped call played at the trial, for example, one of the men describes a suicide bombing near Tel Aviv as a "beautiful operation." The defendants faced 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.

But defense attorneys argued that their clients, while sympathetic with Hamas, were engaged in bona fide efforts to relieve hunger and medical crises in the West Bank and Gaza.

There was no dispute at the trial that the foundation had sent money to aid the "zakat," or charity, committees in Gaza and the West Bank.

One of the key questions at the trial was whether those zakat committees aided by Holy Land were part of Hamas, the militant organization.

On that point there were two critical opposing witnesses.

For the federal prosecutors, there was an Israeli security officer identified at trial only as "Avi." He said the groups aided by the Holy Land Foundation were unquestionably part of Hamas.

The defense countered with Edward Abington, formerly the U.S. consul general in Jerusalem and the State Department's second-highest-ranking intelligence official. Abington testified that during his years in the region, when he received daily CIA briefings, he was never told that the Palestinian charity committees aided by the Holy Land Foundation were controlled by Hamas.

In closing arguments, defense attorneys appealed to jurors to sympathize with the poor of Gaza and the West Bank who had been aided by the Holy Land defendants and to look skeptically at the claims of the Israeli security agent.

Without Holy Land, "I wonder where those families go," defense attorney Lindo Moreno told jurors. "I wonder where those children go. Do they go to the government of Israel? Does the cynicism and cruelty of this prosecution inspire any hope that these people will be helped?"

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