Trial begins in New York CityAl-Moayad faces 60 years [Archives:2005/812/Front Page]

January 31 2005

NEW YORK, Jan 28 (Reuters) – A Yemeni sheikh and his aide planned to provide millions of dollars to al Qaeda and Hamas in an FBI sting operation set up in Frankfurt, the federal U.S. prosecutor said in opening statements at their trial on Friday.

But defense lawyers countered that Sheikh Mohammed Ali Hassan al-Moayad and Mohammed Mohsen Yahya Zayed were victims of entrapment in an “unfair and coercive” situation manipulated by the U.S. government.

Al-Moayad, 56, faces more than 60 years in prison if convicted of providing material support to the militant groups. Zayed, 31, faces more than 30 years for his role in the conspiracy if convicted. Prosecutors say the pair were involved in a long-running effort to funnel cash to the groups.

Four days of videotaped meetings between the defendants and FBI undercover agents in a Frankfurt hotel in January 2003 formed the crux of the government's case.

“They talked about funneling millions of dollars to two of the world's most vicious terrorist organizations ) al Qaeda and Hamas,” said prosecutor Kelly Moore.

Moore said meetings, set up by the FBI in conjunction with German law enforcement, started with them putting their hands on the Koran “swearing silence.” Moore said al-Moayad had ties to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and had bragged about having “taught him about Islamic law.”

The sheikh's lawyer, William Goodman, said the operation and the case it spawned was like a bad television show.

“It was meticulously staged. They had actors, they had directors and they had sound technicians. In the end what they produced was a reality show,” said Goodman, who also said his client only listened to the pitches from the undercover officers, who promised money for the sheikh's legitimate charities and for medical treatment for his severe diabetes if he supported Hamas and al Qaeda.

Jonathan Marks, lawyer for Zayed, said his client was set up by an FBI desperate in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks for victories in the Bush administration's war on terror.

“Forget about all this smoke about how horrible terrorism is,” said Marks, appealing to the jury to keep emotions out. “We all know how horrible terrorism is.”

The government's case may have been hurt by several rulings and developments just before the trial.

The judge ruled that prosecutors could not display three items they planned to use as corroboration for taped conversations. And the prosecution decided against calling its main informant to testify. The informant, Mohamed Alanssi, set himself on fire outside the White House in November, in an apparent suicide attempt after claiming he had been mistreated by the FBI. The trial is expected to last about six weeks.