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(photo credit: AP [file])
Prosecutors and lawyers for a Muslim charity accused of funding terrorists clashed Thursday over whether jurors should see documents that Israeli soldiers seized during raids of Palestinian organizations.
An Israeli agent testified about the documents during the trial of five leaders of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development.
The agent was not identified, and before he testified the courtroom was cleared of spectators except the families of the defendants. Spectators were allowed in another room to listen to the proceedings.
Prosecutors believe the documents seized by Israeli soldiers will show that the Holy Land leaders knew they were sending millions of dollars to groups controlled by Hamas, which is illegal because the US government calls Hamas a terrorist organization.
Defense attorneys tried to cast doubt on the authenticity and significance of the documents, which included pamphlets, brochures and posters that are presumably pro-Hamas. Jurors didn't see the documents because the judge had not ruled by late Thursday on whether to allow them into the case.
In filings before the trial, prosecutors said documents seized from the security offices of the Palestinian Authority contained information on Hamas's funding, including from Holy Land.
Defense lawyers suggested that the evidence did not meet the standards for trial in a US court.
Linda Moreno, one of the defense lawyers, asked the Israeli agent whether his soldiers had warrants when they raided Palestinian charities called zakat committees, orphanages and the Palestinian Authority. Prosecutors objected, and Federal District Judge A. Joe Fish upheld their protest.
"You're not contending that the Fourth Amendment applies outside the United States, are you?" Fish asked Moreno, referring the US Constitution's protection against unreasonable search and seizure. The judge said he did not see the relevance of whether the soldiers had warrants.
The charity officials are charged with aiding a terrorist group, conspiracy, money laundering and tax counts. Prosecutors say Holy Land sent more than $12 million to groups controlled by Hamas under the guise of humanitarian aid from 1995 until the charity was shut down in December 2001.
It is an important case in the Bush administration's anti-terrorism prosecutions, and President George W. Bush personally announced the freezing of Holy Land's assets.
The trial's first three weeks have been dominated by the testimony of an FBI agent who described financial records, videos and wiretapped phone conversations that show links between the Holy Land defendants and Hamas officials.
Defense lawyers say prosecutors are dragging out events from the late 1980s and early '90s, when it was still legal to have contact with Hamas.
Testimony was scheduled to resume Monday.