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Trial begins for alleged terrorist financiers

Two Yemeni men accused of raising money for al Qaeda, Hamas

From Jonathan Wald
CNN

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- A federal prosecutor says a Yemeni sheik and his assistant were intent on providing millions of dollars to al Qaeda and Hamas, while a defense attorney accused the government of entrapment in his opening statement.

Attorneys delivered their opening arguments on Friday in the trial of Sheik Mohammed Ali Hasan al-Moayad, 56, and Mohammed Mohsen Yahya Zayed, 31.

The sheik and his assistant were arrested two years ago in a sting operation at a hotel in Frankfurt, Germany, after their conversations with two U.S. informants were bugged.

They were extradited to the United States in November 2003.

Both men are charged with conspiracy to provide support to terrorist organizations. Al-Moayad also faces charges of giving money, weapons and communication equipment to al Qaeda and Hamas, which have been designated as terrorist organizations by the U.S. State Department.

Charges against al-Moayad say he boasted of meeting several times with al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and that he claimed to have personally delivered $20 million to bin Laden to support terrorist activities in Afghanistan, Chechnya and Kashmir.

If convicted, al-Moayad could get up to 60 years in prison; Zayad could receive up to 30 years.

The charges were filed in the Eastern District of New York because al-Moayad allegedly said that some of the money he provided to al Qaeda was collected at the Al Farouq mosque in Brooklyn.

The government's case rests on taped conversations in January 2003 between the defendants and FBI undercover agents.

The men "talked about funneling millions of dollars to two terror organizations -- Hamas and al Qaeda," Assistant U.S. Attorney Kelly Moore said in her opening statements on Friday.

One of the informants, Sheik Sharif Sa'eed, played the part of a former Black Panther who wanted to donate $2 million to terrorist groups, she said.

Moore said Sa'eed made everyone present swear on the Quran that they would keep the meeting secret. According to her, al-Moayad admitted on tape that he would give the money to "everybody that we learn is fighting jihad."

Al-Moayad quietly mumbled to himself throughout Moore's comments and smiled in response to some of her remarks. Al-Moayad has denied that he gave any money to bin Laden. He contends he was only following orders from Zayed and that the money raised was for charitable causes in Yemen.

"The bottom line is when you're caught admitting a crime on tape, there are no explanations that can get you out of it," Moore said.

Defense attorney William Goodman portrayed al-Moayad as an "ailing, vulnerable man who's devoted his whole life to charity." He told they jury they "will hear no evidence that he sent even one nickel to Hamas."

Goodman accused the government of entrapment.

Al-Moayad was caught in an "unfair and coercive situation" that was "meticulously staged" by authorities, the lawyer said. It "had actors, directors, it had stage technicians."

At the center of the defense argument is the credibility of the other informant, Mohamed Alanssi, and the authenticity of his translations of the taped conversations. Alanssi was in the only one in the meetings who knew both English and Arabic.

In November, Alanssi set himself on fire outside the White House to protest his treatment at the hands of the FBI. He survived the incident.

Jonathan Marks, Zayed's lawyer, said the court could not rely on Alanssi's translations.

"He mistranslated, he embellished, he added, he subtracted," Marks told the jury in his opening remarks.

Prosecutors said they will not ask Alanssi to testify. Goodman said his decision to call Alanssi depends "on what the government comes up with."

Attorneys in the case said the trial could last up to four weeks.


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