Hamas-case jury hears tapes of 1993 Philadelphia meeting
By Jeff Coen
Tribune staff reporter
November 17, 2006
A federal judge Thursday refused to stop the trial of two men accused of activities supporting the militant Islamic Palestinian group Hamas, rejecting their attorneys’ argument that an organization’s meeting should be protected by the 1st Amendment.
Lawyers for Muhammad Salah of Bridgeview and Abdelhaleem Ashqar of Virginia moved for a mistrial after prosecutors began playing secret recordings of a 1993 meeting known as “the Philadelphia conference.”
The gathering saw 20 supporters of Hamas, including Ashqar, discussing strategies for handling “the movement” in America and ways to influence the global perception of the Palestinian cause. The meeting was called after the Oslo peace accords between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel threatened to marginalize the organization.
Defense lawyers said the meeting, and what was discussed there, should be considered free speech.
“It is simply not illegal under our system of justice to have a disagreement about the Oslo peace agreement,” said Ashqar’s attorney William Moffitt. “It’s an appropriate 1st Amendment activity.”
Ashqar spoke in discussion groups about the goal of derailing the Oslo accords and gave a presentation about media goals. Those who attended could be heard saying they should be careful discussing Hamas, instead saying it backward as “Samah” or “sister Samah.”
They discussed how Hamas was expected to be classified as a terror organization by the U.S. government, and decided to try to thwart that designation by organizing a generic Palestinian group as a cover.
Ashqar could be heard saying that the Oslo accords could weaken the movement and make things harder for its leaders.
“Your actions are now terrorism and not a resistance,” he said. He also could be heard discussing “charity work,” which he said should include providing sustenance to the imprisoned and the “families of martyrs.”
In his cross-examination of an FBI agent who read some of the transcripts of the recordings, defense attorney Keith Spielfogel pointed out that the meeting took place in a hotel where attendees registered in their own names.
CHICAGO TRIBUNE: When Peace Is The Problem, Not The Solution