updated 1/12/2004 6:51:43 PM ET 2004-01-12T23:51:43

A community newspaper publisher accused of spying on Iraqi dissidents in the United States was convicted Monday of serving as an unregistered agent of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

The jury took less than two hours to convict the man, Khaled Dumeisi, after the weeklong trial.

Dumeisi, 61, was accused of spying on critics of the Baghdad regime living in the United States and passing the information along to the Iraqi intelligence service.

He was charged with failing to register as an agent of the Iraqi government, conspiring to do so, lying to an immigration officer about his ties to Iraq and lying to a grand jury.

Dumeisi was not charged with espionage or accused of terrorism. The charges carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Dumeisi published a tiny Arabic language community newspaper, Al Mahjar, in which he expressed his hatred for Israel and admiration for the Iraqi dictator.

During his closing argument, Dumeisi’s attorney urged jurors not to let his client’s praise for Saddam rush them into a conviction.

“Reaching a verdict of not guilty does not in any way endorse his very dubious opinions,” said the lawyer, John Murphy. “Quite frankly, I don’t like them, either.”

Prosecutors charge that Palestinian-born Dumeisi spied on Iraqi dissidents partly because he was desperate for money and partly because he admired Saddam as the only Arab leader who strongly supported the Palestinian cause.

The trial opened with a video of Dumeisi’s making a speech at a birthday party for Saddam at Iraq’s U.N. mission, in which he called the dictator “our inspired leader.” Prosecutors maintain that the U.N. mission was a hotbed of Iraqi spies who controlled Dumeisi.

“It takes two to tango,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel W. Gillogly told the jury: “The officials at the mission to give direction and control and Mr. Dumeisi to take direction and control.”

Sentencing was set for March 30.

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