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Friday, June 11, 2004

Five Palestinian brothers on trial in Texas for aiding the Hamas

DALLAS (Reuters) - Jury selection began on Monday in the trial of five Palestinian brothers in Texas who prosecutors say aided the militant Palestinian group Hamas and illegally sold low-grade computer equipment to nations the United States considers supporters of terrorism.

The Elashi brothers are charged with export violations and making false statements about computer equipment sent by their company InfoCom Corp. to Syria and Libya. They have said they are innocent of all the charges against them.

Defense attorneys have said the case, introduced with much fanfare by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft in December 2002, was being pursued by overzealous Justice Department officials targeting Muslim men with ties to the Middle East.

Prosecutors are preparing two trials. In the first, they will bring charges of conspiracy, export violations and money laundering for sending computer parts to Syria and Libya.

In the second, they plan to allege that the brothers -- Bayan Elashi, Ghassan Elashi, Basman Elashi, Hazim Elashi and Ihsan Elashyi -- sent money to Hamas or to senior Hamas leader Musa Abu Marzook. Marzook is married to Nadia Marzook, who is a cousin of the brothers.

No date has been set for the second trial.

Opening statements are likely to be heard on Wednesday and the first case should take about two to three weeks, court sources said.

The indictment says the brothers sent technology to Libya via an intermediary in Malta, who was used to hide the transaction.

KEYBOARDS AND MODEMS

At a detention hearing in December 2002, an FBI agent said the items included keyboards, modems and processing units and said shipments had a retail value of several thousand dollars.

Defense lawyers have said that export violations are typically classified as regulatory crimes for which violators pay civil fines. They have said some large U.S. companies only paid fines -- and faced no criminal action -- for illegally shipping equipment to Libya and Syria.

U.S. attorneys have also said the brothers are linked to a Muslim charity called the Holy Land Foundation, which had an office across the street from their computer company in suburban Dallas.

About three months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, the U.S. government shut down the Holy Land Foundation, saying it was being used to send money to terrorists. President Bush said the charity sent money to Hamas which used it "to support schools and indoctrinate children to grow up into suicide bombers."

No criminal charges have been filed against the Holy Land Foundation.