A Bridgeview man once accused of funneling money to a Palestinian militant group has dodged a $156 million judgment in a potential landmark case after a federal appeals court dropped him from the case.
The nearly dozen judges who make up the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago on Wednesday ruled that Mohammed Salah shouldn't be part of the judgment to be paid to the family of an American teen killed in the West Bank 12 years ago.
Salah and several Islamic charitable organizations were sued in 2000 by the family of David Boim, claiming that each violated a 1993 law allowing Americans hurt or killed by terrorism abroad to collect triple damages for those responsible.
The lawsuit contended that money given by the defendants to Hamas directly funded Boim's death in a May 1996 drive-by shooting. The U.S. government considers Hamas a terrorist group.
But in their 87-page ruling, the judges said Salah, who was imprisoned in Israel from 1993 to 1997 for giving money to Hamas, couldn't have violated the law that was enacted while he was in prison. The appeals court upheld the original ruling against the other organizations, though it remanded the case against the Holy Land Foundation back to the lower courts.
After the ruling, Salah's attorney, Matthew Piers, said the decision ended a disturbing chapter in his client's life. Last year, Salah was acquitted of terrorism-related racketeering charges, claiming that he recruited members and delivered cash to Hamas, but he was convicted of lying about his ties to the group.
"I think it's fair to say he is extremely pleased given the degree to which (Salah) has been persecuted," Piers said, calling the government's pursuit of his client "Kafka-esque."
Salah, who was released from federal prison in October and now is in a halfway house, was unavailable for comment.
The Boims' Chicago attorney, Stephen Landes, was pleased the appeals court upheld the verdict against the other defendants.
"It's clear that (Salah) essentially got out on a technicality. There's no suggestion he wasn't involved in terrorism, it just had to do with when the statute was passed, " Landes said. "He got out for that reason and that reason alone."
Landes said he hadn't given any thought to appealing Salah's release from the lawsuit, saying he would concentrate on the ongoing case.
Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations' Chicago office, said lawsuits against charitable groups coupled with post-Sept. 11, 2001, anti-Muslim sentiment have had a chilling effect - making some Muslims think twice about giving to charity.
"I think they are apprehensive and confused. American Muslims and others want to support those in need in war-ravaged regions, orphans and widows, yet there's the fear now with all the political overtones that they may be on wrong side of the law or may face litigation," Rehab said. "It's very confusing and difficult with all of these prosecutions against charities."