Two Men Acquited of Racketeering in Hamas Conspiracy Trial

Two men accused of furnishing money and fresh recruits to the militant Palestinian group Hamas were acquitted by a federal jury Thursday of racketeering but convicted on lesser charges.

Defense attorneys immediately declared victory in the three-month trial that the government had described as a major component in its war on terrorism.

"This is a great day for justice," said defense attorney Michael E. Deutsch, who represented former grocer Muhammad Salah.

Salah, 53, and Abdelhaleem Ashqar, 48, a one-time assistant business professor at Howard University in Washington, had been accused of laundering money for Hamas terrorists fighting to topple the Israeli government.

Defense attorneys portrayed the men as freedom fighters, comparing them to Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Salah was convicted of obstruction of justice for giving false answers to questions he was asked in a civil lawsuit. Ashqar was convicted of criminal contempt and obstruction of justice for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury when he had been given immunity for anything he might say.

The jury delivered the verdict amid heavy security in the courtroom after deliberating for 14 days.

"We've convicted them — it's hard to say that we're disappointed," First Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Shapiro said.