3 to be tried; US says men aided militants

They led Islamic charity

By Shelley Murphy - Globe Staff / November 13, 2007

Three former leaders of a defunct Boston-based Islamic charity are scheduled to go on trial today in federal court, accused of lying to the government to win tax-exempt status for the charity and then using the nonprofit to distribute publications promoting jihad and to support Muslim militants overseas.

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In what is believed to be the first criminal trial in US District Court in Boston that will explore the role of US charities in financing terrorism, Emadeddin Muntasser, Muhamed Mubayyid, and Samir Al-Monla are charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States, tax violations, and making false statements.

To try to prevent prejudice against the men, US District Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV has barred prosecutors from referring to Osama bin Laden, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, or Al Qaeda.

He has not decided whether references to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing will be allowed.

But when jury selection begins this morning, potential jurors will be told the defendants are Muslims of Arab ancestry and will be asked if they harbor bias based on religion, ethnicity, or national origin that would prevent them from deciding the case fairly.

Potential jurors will be told that Muntasser, 42, of Braintree, was born in Libya; that Mubayyid, 42, of Shrewsbury, is a native of Lebanon; and that Monla, 50, of Boston, was born in Kuwait and is a US citizen.

Defense lawyers and the US attorney's office declined to talk about the case yesterday, because the trial had not begun.

Three years ago, Muntasser sued the government for failing to act on his application for US citizenship. The following year, he was indicted with Mubayyid. They were charged with conspiring to conceal information from the government to win tax-exempt status for their charity, Massachusetts Care International Inc. They also were charged with making false statements. Earlier this year, Monla was added to the indictment.

"This is a tax case, not a terrorism case," defense lawyers contended in a lengthy memorandum filed with the court last month, urging restrictions on what evidence prosecutors may present and on what the government's terrorism specialists can testify about when they take the stand during the trial. "There is no charge that Care International or any of the defendants provided material support to terrorism, or had any connection with Al Qaeda, bin Laden, terrorism, or any terrorist attack or plot," the lawyers wrote.

The government alleges that in the early 1990s, the three men were involved in operating the Boston branch of Al-Kifah Refugee Center - which supported Muslims engaged in violent, religiously based military conflict overseas - and published a pro-jihad newsletter called Al-Hussam, Arabic for The Sword.

After members of the New York office of Al-Kifah were linked to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing in New York, the Boston branch of Al-Kifah was disbanded, and Muntasser founded its successor organization, Massachusetts Care International, the indictment alleges. The group is not affiliated with the global relief organization CARE International.

The indictment alleges that Muntasser and Monla, both former presidents of Massachusetts Care International, and Mubayyid, a former treasurer, won tax-exempt status for Care by hiding its true purpose from the government. The three men asserted that Care, which raised $1.7 million in tax-deductible donations between 1993 and 2003, provided aid to orphans and widows and distributed food. The government alleges that while Care probably provided some humanitarian aid to Muslims who were being persecuted, the three men failed to disclose to the government that it also supported fighters, or mujahideen, in Chechnya, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere. Care also used charitable donations to publish articles online about military operations of the Islamic fighters and an English translation of a pro-jihad book, "Join the Caravan," according to the indictment.

Muntasser, owner of the Logan Furniture Co., is also accused of making false statements to the FBI by denying that he had traveled to Afghanistan in the mid-1990s.

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