Sunday, September 24, 2006

Feds drop count in Hamas terrorism trial

Yahoo! News
Feds drop count in Hamas terrorism trial
By MIKE ROBINSON, Associated Press Writer

Federal prosecutors Friday dropped a charge that an alleged fundraiser for the Palestinian militant group Hamas gave material support to terrorists — a move that stunned defense attorneys.

Prosecutors gave no explanation in court and declined to comment afterward.

Muhammad Salah, 53, who has been the focus of a high-profile terrorism investigation for nine years, remains charged with racketeering conspiracy and lying by denying membership in Hamas.

The dropped charge carries a 10-year maximum sentence; conspiracy carries a maximum of life, and obstruction by lying 10 years.

But the dropping of the charge was a victory for Salah, whose 2004 indictment was announced at the Justice Department by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft.

"This is astounding," Salah's attorney Michael E. Deutsch said.

The surprise came at a hearing after Deutsch asked U.S. District Judge Amy J. St. Eve to press prosecutors to turn over background material on a prospective government witness, Jack Mustafa.

Deutsch asked for information about how much the FBI had paid Mustafa and whether he had an arrest record. It was then that prosecutor Joseph M. Ferguson said quietly that the government wanted to drop the charge with prejudice, meaning it cannot be reinstated.

Prosecutors also said they were withdrawing Mustafa as a witness.