Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Ashqar Gets 11 Years for Contempt

IPT News

Abdelhaleem Ashqar said he'd rather go to prison than disclose the secrets of Palestinian militants. On Wednesday, a federal judge in Chicago made that so.. Ashqar was sentenced to 11 years in prison for criminal contempt and obstruction of justice after refusing to testify before a federal grand jury investigating Hamas support in the U.S.

Ashqar had been accused of racketeering for his alleged support for Hamas. Jurors acquitted him of the racketeering in February, but convicted him for contempt and obstruction for refusing to testify despite being granted immunity. Fellow defendant Mohammed Salah, an acknowledged Hamas member, also was acquitted of racketeering. He was sentenced to 22 months in prison after being convicted of lying in a civil suit concerning Hamas support.

In a sentencing hearing that began Nov. 8, prosecutors – who had asked for a life sentence - tried to show U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve how Ashqar's refusal to testify impeded their investigation. They led FBI agent David Bray through a lengthy series of documents taken from Ashqar's apartment during a 2003 search. Those records included telephone and fax listings, some of which were related to Hamas. Had he testified, Bray said, Ashqar would have been asked about such documents.

Attorney Stephen Landes, who was part of the legal team in the civil litigation, attended the earlier hearing and said the evidence presented showed "Ashqar certainly had critical information that could have guided investigations into numerous people. There's no question he was a very high ranking Hamas person in America. He had the ability to provide very useful information in exchange for immunity but he made his choice not to."

In court papers, defense attorney William Moffitt argued Ashqar could not be sentenced to more than 10 years. Moffitt also argued that as a Palestinian, Ashqar could not testify. "He could either join with his oppressors, reject his countrymen, forsake everything he believes, and never return to his beloved Palestine, or he could be labeled a terrorist," Moffitt argued.

According to the Associated Press, Ashqar spoke for nearly two hours before St. Eve issued his sentence. He discussed the suffering of Palestinian people under the Israeli occupation and said he preferred prison over giving up his information.

"The only option was to become a traitor or collaborator and that is something that I can't do and will never do as long as I live," he told the court.

St. Eve was not swayed. According to the Chicago Tribune, she told Ashqar the law required his testimony once immunity was granted.

"You have disregarded your legal obligation." St. Eve told Ashqar. "In the 1 ½ hours that you have spoken, I have not seen any remorse from you. I also have heard exactly the opposite."

Ashqar helped organize a 1993 gathering of Hamas members and supporters in Philadelphia that was called to discuss ways to "derail" the Oslo peace initiative. That meeting was part of the Palestine Committee, a conglomeration of Muslim Brotherhood affiliates in the U.S.

In addition, investigators found "A suggested work paper" on "Re-arranging Frame of Work on the Inside" in Ashqar's home. The paper, originally in Arabic, describes the early years of Hamas and the coming together of Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas apparatus. The section addressing education lists one of its goals as "ending control of non-Islamists of educational institutions."

Ashqar, formerly a business professor at Howard University, even ran for president of the Palestinian Authority in 2004, winning 20,000 votes, or about 3 percent of the votes cast.

Ashqar's cause was taken up by a number of Islamist groups in America. CAIR-Chicago encouraged followers to attend the sentencing hearing, calling the case a political prosecution.

Muslim American Society President Esam Omeish was among those who wrote St. Eve requesting lenience, saying "Never at any time did I sense a radical tone and an extremist agenda in his words or actions. He has never and from what I saw can never aide or abet any terrorist or help finance any act of terror, simply because he does not believe in violence and extremism as a way to voice disenfranchisement or disagreement."

CAIR seeks removal of label in terrorism case
by Bill Gertz
The Washington Times
November 21, 2007

The Council on American-Islamic Relations is seeking help from House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. to pressure the Justice Department to change the group's status as a co-conspirator in a terrorism case.

CAIR officials recently met with Mr. Conyers, Michigan Democrat, and then wrote a letter asking him to lobby the new attorney general on behalf of the group, and to hold hearings.

CAIR is among several hundred Muslim groups listed as unindicted co-conspirators in a recent federal terrorism trial in Dallas into activities by the Holy Land Foundation Inc., a group linked to funding the Palestinian Hamas terrorist group. The trial recently ended in a mistrial and prosecutors have said they plan to re-try the case.

Despite its uncertain outcome, the trial has produced a large amount of information and evidence identifying U.S. and foreign groups sympathetic to or direct supporters of international Islamist terrorists.

A 1991 internal memorandum from the radical Muslim Brotherhood identified 29 front groups, including the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), that are part of a covert program by the Brotherhood in the United States to subvert American society.

CAIR officials have requested that Mr. Conyers ask the Justice Department to explain why it publicly identified the 306 co-conspirators in the Holy Land Foundation trial.

"Those on the list suffer negatively as a result of the label 'unindicted co-conspirator' as it impresses upon the typical member of the American public that those listed are involved in criminal activity," the group said in a letter to Mr. Conyers. "In reality, those so named have neither been charged with a crime nor offered any recourse for challenging the allegation."

The group said the conspirator designation is being used by counterterrorism advocates to block government funds from being used to conduct outreach programs to Muslim groups. Pending fiscal 2008 legislation would block the Justice Department from using any funds for participation in conferences sponsored by a group or person identified by the government as a criminal unindicted co-conspirator.

Critics in Congress opposed the Justice Department's involvement in a conference sponsored by ISNA in September because the group was linked to the Holy Land Foundation case.

CAIR's letter to Mr. Conyers said that "you remember many of these abusive practices from the McCarthy era and the civil rights movement."

Melanie Roussell, a spokeswoman for the Judiciary Committee, had no comment.

CAIR recently petitioned U.S. District Court Chief Judge A. Joe Fish in a "friend of the court" motion to remove it from the listing, saying it caused a decline in membership and fundraising. After the mistrial, Judge Fish forwarded CAIR's request to U.S. Judge Jorge A. Solis, who has not yet issued a ruling.

The group stated in its appeal that linkage to the Holy Land Foundation has "impeded its ability to collect donations" because donors fear contributing to a terrorist group.

Steven Emerson, executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, said the secret collaboration between CAIR and Mr. Conyers raises concerns over the lawmaker's support for "a group unambiguously proven to be part of the Muslim Brotherhood-Hamas infrastructure."

"This combination demonstrates the degree to which radical Islamic groups have insinuated themselves into the highest reaches of the U.S. government by using deceit," he said.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment, citing a gag order issued in the case.

• Audrey Hudson contributed to this report.


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