updated 2/1/2007 4:35:23 PM ET 2007-02-01T21:35:23

Two men accused of furnishing money and fresh recruits to the Hamas terrorist organization were acquitted by a federal jury Thursday of racketeering conspiracy charges, but convicted on lesser charges.

Defense attorneys immediately declared victory in the three-month trial that the government had described as a major component in its war on terrorism.

"This is a great day for justice," said defense attorney Michael E. Deutsch, who represented former Chicago grocer Muhammad Salah in the trial.

Salah, 53, and Abdelhaleem Ashqar, 48, a one-time assistant business professor at Howard University in Washington, had been accused of laundering money and delivering it to Hamas terrorists fighting to topple the government of Israel.

But defense attorneys portrayed the men as freedom fighters, comparing them to Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Both convicted of obstruction
Salah was convicted of obstruction of justice for giving false answers to questions he was asked in a civil lawsuit. Ashqar was convicted of criminal contempt and obstruction of justice for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury when he had been given immunity from prosecution for anything he might say.

The jury delivered the verdict after 14 days of deliberation.

There was heavy security in the courtroom and spectators were warned against any outbursts, regardless of the verdict.

After the verdict was read, First Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Shapiro said: "We've convicted them — it's hard to say that we're disappointed."

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