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Divide & conquer

"Divide & conquer" Continued...

Issue: "Minority report," Aug. 11, 2007

Such tactics also repel non-Muslim Americans, muddying distinctions between democratized forms of Islam versus radical and violent Islamism. "The vast majority of Americans are not beginning to understand the differences," Jasser said. "It's still a new lexicon for American citizens who are just trying to figure out why these people keep targeting us."

Financial jihad

Federal prosecutors in Dallas opened the largest terrorism-financing trial in the country's history July 24, accusing the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development of funneling $12.4 million to Hamas after 1995, when the United States declared the Palestinian group a terrorist organization. U.S. attorneys charge the nation's biggest Muslim charity with functioning as a terrorist fundraising tool from its inception in 1987.

Attorneys representing five former Holy Land officials aim to prove otherwise with evidence of food, medical care, and shelter provided to needy families in war-ravaged regions. That most of that aid flowed into the Palestinian territories, the defense argues, is natural given the amount of conflict there and does not prove direct support for Hamas.

U.S. District Judge A. Joe Fish took extra precautions to ensure a fair trial, summoning a 750-person jury pool for intense quizzing on their general sentiments toward Muslims and knowledge of Islamic terrorism. During the selection process, several prospective jurors said they feared the possibility of terrorist retaliation should the verdict fall against Holy Land officials. None of those jury candidates made the final cut.

Still, some jury experts suspect that if several people had the gumption to mention their fears of retaliation, many others likely harbor such concerns secretly. The defense has done little to assuage such potential unease: Lawyer Joshua Dratel argued during opening statements that comments by Holy Land officials in support of Hamas are constitutionally protected and not prosecutable. "You can stand up in front of the courthouse now and read the Hamas charter and say you agree with every word of it, and that is not illegal," he said.

Assistant U.S. Atty. James T. Jacks has tried to keep jury members' minds focused on the Holy Land Foundation's alleged illegal activity. U.S. law expressly forbids financing terrorist groups, regardless of political sentiments.

The Justice Department appears increasingly intent on enforcing that law: On the same day prosecutors brought opening arguments in Dallas, federal authorities raided two other Muslim charities in Dearborn, Mich., with suspected ties to Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah. FBI agents say they will continue to crack down on terrorist front groups operating under different names in the United States. But as with the Holy Land Foundation, which authorities shut down in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, getting to trial can take years.

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