MIAMI — A former imam at a South Florida mosque said yesterday that terror suspect Adham Hassoun did not, to his knowledge, solicit funds for Islamist groups abroad, contradicting assertions by federal prosecutors.
Speaking on behalf of the defense in sometimes fiery testimony, Raed Awad said that Mr. Hassoun was a devout Muslim who participated in many activities at the mosque in Sunrise, Fla., where he delivered the occasional sermon, and was a generous benefactor of Muslim charities.
Federal prosecutors sought to portray the imam”s close friend Mr. Hassoun in a different light, however, questioning whether the terror suspect raised funds to arm Muslims in places like Kosovo, Bosnia and Chechnya.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Frazier“s inquiries about whether Muslims were obligated to support mujahedeen evoked the ire of Mr. Awad, who offered a fiery explanation about the difference between those who fight for oppressed Muslims’ rights and those who attack civilians, the latter of whom he said “should be killed.”
“The problem with the West is that it has very little knowledge about Islam,” he added later in his testimony.
U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke warned Mr. Awad to maintain his composure during questioning, and likewise cautioned Mr. Frazier, whose rapid line of questioning at times didn’t allow the witness enough time to answer the previous question.
Mr. Awad, who was at the Sunrise mosque from 1995 to 2000 and now heads a mosque in Birmingham, Ala., did acknowledge that he once referred to Mr. Hassoun in a media interview as “overzealous” and said he “talked a lot.”
Mr. Hassoun, along with fellow terror suspects Kifah Jayyousi and Jose Padilla, are accused of providing money, equipment and material support to terrorist groups abroad and have been heard in thousands of FBI wiretap conversations using coded language, which the prosecution claims were discussions about funding radical Islamic groups abroad.
The prosecution yesterday attempted to illustrate its accusations that Mr. Hassoun, who has become the central figure in the terror trial now in its 11th week, spoke to congregants at his mosque in Florida about jihad, or Muslim holy war, in places such as Bosnia, where Muslims were fighting government forces.
Mr. Frazier also inquired as to whether Mr. Awad was aware during his time at the Sunrise mosque if groups like the Global Relief Foundation or the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development solicited donations from members at the behest of Mr. Hassoun or others.
He said he had no knowledge of efforts to raise money at his mosque by the two groups, both of which have since been implicated in raising money for terrorist organizations. In Dallas, a trial began yesterday against Holy Land and its leaders, who stand accused of funneling millions of dollars to the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas.