October 23, 2007 in Nation/World

Terror financing trial ends in chaos

David Koenig Associated Press
 

Fast fact

President Bush announced the seizure of Holy Land’s assets in December 2001, calling the action “another step in the war on terrorism.”

DALLAS – The biggest terrorism-financing trial since the Sept. 11 attacks ended in confusion Monday, with no one convicted and many acquittals thrown out after three jurors took the rare step of disputing the verdict.

Prosecutors said they would probably retry leaders of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, as well as the organization itself, which the federal government shut down in December 2001.

Defendants and their supporters considered the outcome a victory. Outside the courthouse, jubilant family members and supporters hoisted defendant and Holy Land chief executive Shukri Abu Baker on their shoulders and cried, “God is great!”

After two months of testimony and 19 days of deliberations, the jury reached verdicts for only one of the five defendants, finding former Holy Land Chairman Mohammed El-Mezain not guilty of 31 of 32 counts and deadlocking on the remaining charge.

Acquittals for two other defendants, Mufid Abdulqader and Abdulrahman Odeh, also were read in court. But those acquittals did not stand because when the judge polled each juror three jurors said they disagreed with the verdicts.

U.S. District Judge A. Joe Fish sent the jury back to resolve the differences, but after about an hour he said he received a note from the jury saying 11 of the 12 felt further deliberations would not lead them to reach a unanimous decision. Then he declared a mistrial.

Juror William Neal said the panel found little evidence against three of the defendants and was evenly split on charges against Baker and former Holy Land chairman Ghassan Elashi, who were seen as the principal leaders of the charity.

“I thought they were not guilty across the board,” said Neal, a 33-year-old art director from Dallas. The case “was strung together with macaroni noodles. There was so little evidence.”

FBI agents and Israeli officials testified that Holy Land funneled millions of dollars to Hamas, which has carried out suicide bombings in Israel. The U.S. designated Hamas a terrorist group in 1995, making financial transactions with it illegal.

Holy Land’s lawyers deny the allegations and say the group helped Muslim children and families left homeless or poor by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

© Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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