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Thursday, October 19, 2006

Chicago terrorist trial starts today

The trial of Abdelhaleem Ashqar is getting underway in a Federal court in Chicago today. Ashqar was a professor at Howard University in Washington DC until 2003 when the university refused to renew his contract. Ashqar is charged with funneling thousands of dollars to Hamas terrorists through a Mississippi bank account.

What's unusual about this case is that the money was funneled before the US designated Hamas a terrorist group in Jnauary 1995. The indictment lists no activities after March 1994 other than refusing to testify before grand juries. Ashqar is being charged under the Federal Racketeering laws (RICO), which are typically used against the Mafia or other organized crime. Ashqar's argument boils down to "if the government hadn't designated them a terrorist group, there's nothing wrong with sending them money."

The Washington Post has a puff piece on Ashqar, who lives in Northern Virginia. Two thirds of the way through it, they finally hint at what this trial is about:
Prosecutors in Chicago say that the quiet graduate student shifted tens of thousands of dollars through his Mississippi bank accounts to Hamas activists. Evidence of his support for the group is overwhelming, they say.

For example, in December 1993, FBI agents slipped into Ashqar's apartment and discovered "a treasure trove of Hamas-related documents," according to the prosecution's court filings. They included minutes of confidential Hamas meetings; details of recent Hamas attacks on Israeli soldiers; and a fax from Mousa Abu Marzook, a Falls Church businessman, asking Ashqar to arrange the transfer of $40,000 to another Palestinian activist, according to the court filings.

Marzook is also charged in the Chicago indictment. He was deported by U.S. authorities in 1997 and is a top official in Hamas's political bureau, believed to be living in Syria. The third defendant in the case is Muhammad Salah, an Illinois businessman.

Ashqar used his telephone as "a kind of switchboard," linking Hamas operatives in various countries who couldn't call each other directly, according to the prosecution's court documents. In December 1993, according to the documents, Ashqar passed on a message from one operative to a senior Hamas official in Syria, calling for the execution of a rogue Hamas member who had killed three men. Unbeknown to Ashqar, the FBI was listening in.
Give me a break - the 'professor' needed to be told that it was illegal to conspire with murderers even if the US had not yet designated them a terrorist organization?

The article says that Ashqar expects to be deported if he is acquitted and imprisoned for life if he is convicted. I hope he's convicted and imprisoned for life, because the US doesn't exchange prisoners terrorists. But if he's deported, I hope it's to Israel, and not to Jordan (like Marzook was when Israel stupidly refused to take him) or Syria, where he would be free to engage in terror activity. At least our government would keep him off the streets for a while.


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