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Judge rejects Egyptian's alleged terror link

Man who admitted ties to Hamas leader gets lesser sentence

From Terry Frieden
CNN Washington

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ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (CNN) -- An Egyptian national living in the United States was sentenced Monday to a year in prison after a federal judge determined there was not enough evidence to tie him to charges of financially supporting terrorism.

Soliman Biheiri will serve at least 10 months in jail and upon his release will be deported to his native country.

He was convicted in October of fraudulently trying to obtain U.S. citizenship. The government had argued Biheiri should serve as much as 10 years because of alleged dealings with the Palestinian Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas.

Biheiri acknowledged personal ties to Mousa Abu Marzook, a Hamas leader who lived in the United States until being deported after the group was designated a terrorist entity in 1995.

The group's military wing has admitted responsibility for terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians attacks against the Israeli military.

Prosecutors alleged Biheiri illegally distributed money from bank accounts controlled by Marzook. Financial records uncovered by prosecutors also show that Marzook invested in a company once run by Biheiri.

But the government acknowledged in court last week that there was no direct proof that money distributed by Biheiri funded terrorism.

His lawyers denied any connection to terrorism and said Biheiri's money was used for noncriminal business investments.

Judge T.S. Ellis also expressed doubts about the government's case. But calling his ruling a "close call," he said Monday that he had concluded it was not clear that Biheiri's handling of money was related to the immigration violations of which he was convicted.

Given an opportunity to speak, Biheiri declined to say anything.

Before Biheiri left the courtroom, the judge lectured him. "It is indeed ironic that the very country you so demonstrated a lack of respect for has a system of law that protects your rights. Otherwise, you would be looking at 10 years in prison in a heartbeat."

Attorneys for both the government and Biheiri declined comment, as did his young daughters, who were in the courtroom.

The government said it did not charge Biheiri with financial violations because the statute of limitations ran out before its investigation of him began.

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