EUGENE, Ore. - "There are no terrorism charges in this case." So said attorneys from both the prosecution and defense teams during opening statements in United States v. Seda on Monday. Despite those words of caution, the bulk of Tuesday's testimony involved plenty of discussion about terrorism in Russia and the Caucuses. That's because although the area has been plagued by decades of violence, whether the jury views Chechen fighters there as freedom fighters or terrorists may very well determine the outcome of the case.
While at its core this is a criminal tax case, the intentions of the defendant are integral to the case. Pirouz Sedaghaty, also known as Pete Seda, is charged with charged with conspiring to move $150,000 out of the United States without declaring it as required, and with filing false tax returns to hide the fact that the money ever existed.
Whether jurors determine the he knew he was financially supporting Chechen rebels and falsified his tax returns to hide it could decide the case.
The prosecution called numerous witnesses to demonstrate that Chechen militants are violent extremists engaged in acts of terrorism; that Seda knew it; and that he surreptitiously used his position as director of the al Haramain Islamic Foundation to finance the militants.
Jeremy Christianson, a former computer forensic expert with the IRS, testified about his receipt of five hard drives that had been seized from Seda and from al Haramain during a 2004 search and how he had been tasked with recovering data that according to investigators had been destroyed. Christianson told the jury how he was able to recover most of what was sought, including entire email accounts that included information related to the defendant's alleged support for Chechen mujahideen.
Defense attorneys attempted to show that investigators and prosecutors had selectively seized evidence and oversold its cache to jurors. Lawyers pointed out that photos, books, and videotapes that had been seized were only a small selection of the materials present at Seda's home. As they explained, investigators ignored everything except a fraction of material that would make Seda appear to be a radical Muslim.
Investigators uncovered numerous emails that urged Muslims to contribute to Chechens. In one such appeal via the Sheeshan e-group on November 17, 2000, the author of the email attached a fatwa titled "The Islamic Ruling on the permissibility of Martyrdom Operations" in Chechnya, calling on Muslims to support the mujahideen in any way they can.
Another email, dated January 24, 2000, included "Frequently Asked Questions" about the Chechen mujahideen. An excerpt:
"Q: How do I send donations to the muslims in Chechnya?
A: "There are many relief organizations and individuals collecting money for the Chechen cause, all over the world. Only a fraction of this money actually reaches those in need. We have seen the rise of many 'official' Chechen personalities who go round mosque to mosque, collecting money for the 'Jihad.' No one knows their history and few people in Chechnya even know who these people are.
If you work for or know someone who works in a reputable aid organization, inform them that the Mujahideen are in urgent need of doctors, medical personnel and medical supplies."
Defense attorneys argued that there is no way to know who was present when the computers were used or who had access to them. Moreover, the presence of radical material on Seda's computer does not prove that he subscribed to those beliefs.
See coverage from Day One of the trial here.