Men accused of funding Hamas await verdict in Chicago

By The Associated Press

CHICAGO – Jurors heard a final emotional appeal from a federal prosecutor Thursday then began deliberations at the trial of two men accused of funding terrorism for the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

“For too long these defendants have committed a variety of criminal violations and the time for accountability has arrived,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid J. Schar said.

Former Chicago grocer Muhammad Salah, 53, and Abdelhaleem Ashqar, 48, are accused of furnishing money and recruits to Hamas – the militant group that won recent elections in the Palestinian territories but is classified by the U.S. government as a terrorist group.

After hearing from Schar, jurors received instructions from U.S. District Judge Amy J. St. Eve and began deliberating at 3:35 p.m.

Prosecutors told jurors that the men were major operatives within the international network.

They said the money was used to finance murders, bombings and kidnappings aimed at toppling the Israeli government.

Defense attorneys said the money represented charitable donations aimed at easing the suffering of Palestinians living in refugee camps.

In an emotional appeal on Wednesday, defense attorney William Moffitt likened Hamas to movements led by such champions of human rights as Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela.

He drew a grim picture of life in the refugee camps and said Palestinians resemble those left homeless by Hurricane Katrina.

Schar, in his rebuttal argument, told jurors that the situation in some Palestinian territories “is horrible.” But he said that that did not excuse the crimes allegedly committed.

“You are going to get instructions from the judge, and you can read those instructions for months and months but you won’t find one that says that two wrongs make a right,” Schar said.