Hamas used US as base for Israeli terrorist attacks: prosecutor
Two Hamas militants used the United States as a base to sow "death, destruction, fear and terror" in Israel by laundering money, coordinating communications and recruiting and training terrorists, a federal prosecutor said.
The Chicago grocer and Washington-based business professor have denied any involvement in the militant wing of Hamas and said their actions were aimed at delivering humanitarian aid and organizing political solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"This case is not about who is right or wrong in that conflict," assistant US attorney Joseph Ferguson said in closing arguments.
"It's not about illegalizing the belief that a government somewhere else should be overthrown," he said. "It's about what the defendants have done in the safe-haven of America. They used the liberties of America and its institutions to violate American law in the service of violent jihad."
Ferguson argued that there was "no distinction" between the social, political and military wings of Hamas and described an organization in which political leaders ordered the murder of opponents and collaborators while lower-level operatives carefully maintained plausible deniability.
The three-month trial has been closely watched by civil libertarians and the Palestinian and Jewish communities as it became a debate on the legitimacy of Hamas and the use of torture by Israeli security forces.
"This is a case where the Israeli government is using the US courts to fight its own so-called war on terrorism," Rima Kapitan, a civil rights lawyer with the Chicago branch of the Council of American-Islamic Relations told AFP.
The fact that the men are being prosecuted for their actions supporting Hamas before it was designated a terrorist organization by the United States is particularly troubling, Kapitan said, as are concerns that the jury will consider evidence obtained by a foreign government who uses torture.
"This case compounded with all the other cases - whether it's FBI investigations of ordinary people or police harassment - makes people feel that anybody who speaks up is a target," Kapitan said.
Much of the evidence the United States used to build its case against grocer Muhammad Salah, 53, a naturalized citizen, was obtained during several weeks of interrogation by Israeli security forces. Salah argued that those statements were fabrications obtained through torture.
After a lengthy pre-trial hearing in which two of Salah's interrogators testified, Judge Amy St. Eve ruled earlier this year that those statements were not obtained through torture in violation of US rules of acceptable evidence.
Ferguson attacked Salah's allegations and described him as a "jaunty, boastful, conversational and comfortable" prisoner who used his knowledge of the secret burial site of a murdered Israeli soldier to negotiate the release of Palestinian prisoners.
He reminded jurors of a tape in which Salah casually drinks tea with his interrogator and the photographs taken of a bruise-free Salah during his high-profile 1993 Israeli arrest and trial.
Salah was arrested while in Israel and the Palestinian territories to rebuild the militant wing of Hamas after a series of deportations devastated the organization, Ferguson said. He met with several Hamas leaders who were involved in religious and charitable organizations and who helped him contact potential recruits for the militant wing.
Professor Abdelhaleem Ashqar, 48, was accused of being the group's secretary who coordinated communications and kept track of critical documents such as deposit slips and copies of confessions of those captured so Hamas could keep tabs on which agents had been compromised.
Ferguson also cited minutes of a meeting that Ashqar had taken in which Hamas leaders said they were "ready to escalate military actions" against Israel, to demonstrate his involvement in terrorist activities.
Also charged in the case is Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzook who is considered a fugitive living in Syria.