Trial Begins In Muslim Charity Probe
Feds Say Group Hid Pro-Jihad Activities
POSTED: 5:53 am EST November 14, 2007
BOSTON — Three former leaders of an Islamic charity that described its mission as helping war orphans, widows and refugees in Muslim nations go on trial this week, accused of duping the U.S. government into getting tax-exempt status by hiding the group’s pro-jihad activities.
The federal trial of the three former officers of Care International Inc. began Tuesday with jury selection.
Emadeddin Muntasser, the founder of Care International; Muhammed Mubayyid, the group’s former treasurer; and Samir Al-Monla, the president of Care from 1996-98, are accused of hiding the group’s pro-jihad activities from the Internal Revenue Service, the FBI and the Immigration and Naturalization Service from 1993 to 2003. The men are charged with tax code violations, making false statements and conspiracy to defraud the United States.
Prosecutors say the organization distributed a newsletter promoting jihad and supported Muslim militants involved in armed conflicts around the world. They insist, though, that they targeted the men because they lied about the organization’s work to obtain tax-exempt status for the group.
But defense attorneys accuse prosecutors of trying to sensationalize the charges into a terrorism case by highlighting the newsletter.
“There is no charge that Care International or any of the defendants provided material support to terrorism, or had any connection with Al Qaeda, bin Laden, terrorism, or any terrorist attack or plot,” defense lawyers wrote in court papers.
The group, which was not affiliated with the well-known global relief group CARE International, is now defunct.
In an eight-count indictment, prosecutors said the men failed to disclose that Care was a successor to the Boston branch of the Al-Kifah Refugee Center in New York, which was linked to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
Prosecutors allege that Care was raising money to support mujahideen, defined in the indictment as “Muslim holy warriors,” and that it published the pro-jihadist newsletter called “al-Hussam,” which means “The Sword” in Arabic.
Specifically, prosecutors say the men did not tell the government that it supported mujahideen in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya, Pakistan and other countries. Care also used a portion of its donations to publish an English translation of “Join the Caravan,” a pro-jihad book.
Defense attorneys and prosecutors declined to comment on the case before trial.
Prosecutors have acknowledge that Care did some legitimate charity work.
“The government has not criticized in the indictment nor will it argue that assistance to orphans or widows is not charitable. As alleged in the indictment, the only issue is whether Care engaged in other non-charitable activities that the defendants decided to conceal from the government,” prosecutors wrote in court papers.
Defense attorneys won a motion to bar prosecutors from bringing up Osama bin Laden or the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. U.S. District Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV has not yet ruled on whether prosecutors will be allowed to make references to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
The defense also won a bid to submit a questionnaire asking potential jurors if the defendants’ religion, ethnicity or national origin may prevent them from deciding the case objectively. All three men are Muslims.
Muntasser, 42, owner of the Logan Furniture Co., was born in Libya and now lives in Braintree. Mubayyid, 42, was born in Lebanon and now lives in Shrewsbury. Al-Monla, 50, was born in Kuwait, now lives in Boston and is a U.S. citizen.
Harvey Silverglate, a prominent Cambridge civil rights attorney, and Susan Estrich, the former presidential campaign manager for Gov. Michael Dukakis who is now a professor at the University of Southern California Law School, have argued that Care’s activities were protected by the First Amendment.
“At the heart of this case is the right of an established religious charity to collect funds and distribute literature. That right has been repeatedly reaffirmed by the Supreme Court, even where municipalities and other local governments found the message of the charities offensive and their fundraising downright reprehensible,” defense lawyers argued last year in an unsuccessful motion to dismiss the charges.