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Mistrial for Muslim charity leaders facing terror charges

  • Story Highlights
  • Case involved Texas-based Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development
  • Five former members accused of operating as a front for Hamas
  • U.S. authorities designated Hamas a terrorist organization in 1997
  • Holy Land Foundation was shut down in December 2001 after raid by feds
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From Bill Mears
CNN
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A federal judge in Dallas, Texas, declared a mistrial Monday in the case against leaders of a Muslim charity accused of aiding terrorists.

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Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development former chairman Mohammed El-Mezain was acquitted Monday.

Five former members of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development were accused of operating as a front for Hamas, the Palestinian group which U.S. authorities designated a terrorist organization in 1997.

The men were indicted in July 2004 for illegally funneling aid overseas to the group.

One of the leaders, former chairman Mohammed el-Mezain, was acquitted on all but one of 32 charges against him. Jurors deadlocked on one count of conspiracy to provide material support to a designated terrorist organization.

Judge A. Joe Fish declared a mistrial on that single charge, as well as on all other charges facing the other four defendants and Holy Land Foundation itself.

Court officials say confusion occurred Monday after jurors returned from 19 days of deliberations. Three Holy Land leaders were at first declared not guilty, but when jurors were polled individually, several told Fish the verdicts were incorrectly read.

The entire panel was sent back to straighten out the matter, but returned about an hour later, saying further deliberations would be pointless, since a unanimous decision could not be reached. Fish, named to the federal bench in 1983 by President Reagan, then declared a mistrial.

The unidentified jury forewoman told the judge in open court she could not explain the confusion. "There was no issue in the vote," she said. "I really don't understand where it is coming from."

Holy Land Foundation claimed it was the nation's largest Muslim nonprofit charity. Based in Richardson, Texas, it had offices in California, New Jersey and Illinois.

It was shut down December 4, 2001, just weeks after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, when its offices were raided by federal authorities. President Bush made a White House announcement that day, saying, "Those who do business with terror will do no business with the United States."

Holy Land officials denied the accusations, calling them a "smear campaign to undermine Muslims and the institutions that serve them."

The group's Web site at the time said its mission was to "find and implement practical solutions for human suffering through humanitarian programs that impact the lives of the disadvantaged, disinherited and displaced peoples suffering from man-made and natural disasters."

Since it was shut down, federal courts have rejected Holy Land's ongoing efforts to have their assets unfrozen.

There was no initial reaction Monday from the defendants, their attorneys or the Justice Department.

Because a mistrial was declared on most of the counts, federal prosecutors have the option of refiling charges. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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