One of the most prominent anti-terror prosecutions of the past decade opened Monday as government lawyers and those representing leaders of a Muslim charity began quizzing potential jurors.

The men on trial in federal district court aren’t accused of being terrorists. Rather, they are charged with funneling millions of dollars to the militant group Hamas, which allegedly used some of the money to support the families of suicide bombers in the Middle East.

Although the FBI investigated the men and the charity in the 1990s, the Bush administration raised the profile of the case since Sept. 11. President Bush announced the seizure of the charity’s assets in a Rose Garden news conference three months later, in December 2001.

Defense lawyers say the men and the charity, the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, helped build hospitals and schools for Palestinians living under Israeli occupation but are not connected to Hamas.

The defendants and their supporters claim the prosecution is based on anti-Arab bias.

The trial before District Judge A. Joe Fish is expected to last several months. Prosecutors and defense lawyers are expected to lay out the case in opening statements next Monday. . .

The political overtones of the case run deep.

Parvez Ahmed, chairman of the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the Bush administration was trying to silence Muslim opposition to Israeli policy and stop aid to Palestinian children by closing Holy Land.

“It has put a chill on First Amendment rights of Muslims in this country,” Ahmed said. “It’s caused Muslims to question, will donors be criminalized?”


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