Nearly six years after it shut down the nation’s largest Islamic charity for alleged ties to terrorism, the U.S. government begins the high-stakes prosecution this week of five top officials of the Holy Land Foundation, accused of funneling money to Palestinian militants.

In a 2001 Rose Garden appearance shortly after Sept. 11, President Bush said the charity was among those that “do business with terror.”

Holy Land officials denied claims that the charity sent funds to Hamas, and tried unsuccessfully to force the U.S. to prove it in court. Ironically, the criminal case gives the charity officials – all but one of whom are U.S. citizens – their first chance to dispute specific allegations that they supported the terrorist group.

But the trial, with opening arguments scheduled for Tuesday, also turns a political spotlight on the Justice Department, which has had spotty success winning convictions when charging Americans with providing material support to terrorists. This case, shrouded in secrecy and heavily dependent on testimony from foreign agents, comes loaded with unique legal challenges.

The government’s case has drawn special attention from inside and outside the U.S. Muslim community for an indictment that also lists about 300 individuals and groups as unindicted co-conspirators – among them long-established and U.S.-based organizations engaged in traditional lobbying efforts.

Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Washington-based Council on American Islamic Relations, one of the groups listed as an unindicted co-conspirator, accused prosecutors of using smears and “McCarthyite tactics.” He called it an “attempt to marginalize and disenfranchise mainstream Muslim groups.”

In response to a similar listing of the 44-year-old Islamic Society of North America, based in Indiana, President Ingrid Mattson issued a statement saying: “ISNA is not now, and never has been, involved in any covert or illegal activity, and has never supported any terrorist organizations.”


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