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(photo credit: AP [file])
Lawyers for Muslim charity leaders accused of aiding Middle East terrorists scored a rare win in court Tuesday when a federal judge blocked some evidence seized by Israeli soldiers during raids of Palestinian organizations.
Defense lawyers had objected that some of the documents were not signed or dated, and they cast doubt on Israel's handling of the evidence.
Five former leaders of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development are charged with funneling millions of dollars to the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which the US government designated a terrorist organization in 1995. The trial is in its fourth week of testimony.
Federal District Judge A. Joe Fish has ruled in the prosecution's favor on a wide range of issues, from allowing the government to call Israeli secret agents as witnesses to denying defense requests for a mistrial.
On Tuesday, however, Fish ruled against prosecutors and blocked the jury from seeing 12 documents seized from Palestinian charities allegedly linked to Hamas and funded partly by the Holy Land Foundation.
The precise significance of the judge's ruling was difficult to gauge. The judge did not explain his ruling, and lawyers have been barred from talking to reporters about the case.
Also, the judge allowed some evidence from the Israeli raids, including pro-Hamas posters that could bolster in jurors' minds the prosecution's charge that the groups financed by Holy Land Foundation were controlled by Hamas.
Holy Land was the largest US Muslim charity when government agents shut it down in December 2001.
Leaders of the group said they provided humanitarian aid to Palestinian children, victims of the Oklahoma City bombing and others.
But prosecutors have portrayed the charity as part of a broader campaign to support suicide bombings and other attacks by Hamas in Israel.
The five defendants have mostly presented a united front against the charges, although that wall began to crack Tuesday.
A lawyer for one of the men got an FBI agent to admit that the man's name did not appear on a list of Muslim Brotherhood activists or a Hamas official's phone book. Some of the other defendants' names did appear.
The defendants are charged with aiding a terrorist group, conspiracy and money laundering. The men could be sentenced to life in prison if found guilty and if deaths resulted from their actions.