DALLAS – A federal judge declared a mistrial Monday in a 197-count terrorism-financing case against a Muslim group. Prosecutors could not secure a conviction against the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development or five of its members despite years of investigation and wiretaps, and two months of testimony.
President Bush froze the group’s assets in December 2001, calling it a front for Hamas. Prosecutors did not accuse the Foundation of financing terrorism directly, but said it supported terrorism by giving more than $12 million to charities known as zakat committees, which build hospitals and feed the poor, as a way to spread Hamas’ ideology. But after 19 days of deliberation, the jury acquitted one defendant of all but one charge, on which it deadlocked, could not reach a verdict on the Foundation or its two principal organizers, and appeared to be leaning toward acquitting the other two defendants of most charges too. Judge Joe Fish declared a mistrial. Legal commentators called it a stunning blow against the Bush administration’s tactics. Matthew Orwig, a partner at Sonnenechein Nath & Rosenthal and until recently U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Texas, called it “a two-by-four in the middle of the forehead” to the Bush administration. “If this doesn’t get their attention, they are just in complete denial,” Orwig told The New York Times.