Iranian widow must go to trial in NY on terror charge
NEW YORK (AP) – A naturalized U.S. citizen must face trial on a charge of providing material support to an Iranian terrorist organization she’s accused of helping to lead, a federal judge ruled Thursday.
U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan denied a defense motion to dismiss the case against Zeinab Taleb-Jedi, who was arrested in 2006 at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Defense attorneys have labeled the prosecution "outrageous" and argued it violated Taleb-Jedi’s civil rights.
They said that the Iranian-born widow was never involved in violence and that the group, the People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran, also known as the Mujahedeen Khalq, has won the backing of some U.S. military officers and politicians because it advocates the overthrow of the Iranian government.
The judge, saying foreign relations "during a time of war are not black and white," wrote: "There is nothing outrageous about giving military support to certain elements of the PMOI while at the same time prosecuting an allegedly high-ranking member for violating the material support statute."
The judge, however, cautioned that "if the proof at trial shows only that the defendant participated in the PMOI through mere membership and chanting at meetings, it may well be insufficient to reach a jury or sustain a guilty verdict."
The People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran was designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. Department of State in 1997. Prosecutors say Taleb-Jedi, 52, became an English teacher in 1999 at the organization’s Iraq headquarters, Camp Ashraf.
She became a U.S. citizen in 1996. In 1997, she learned that her husband died in a bus bombing on the road between Camp Ashraf and Baghdad.
During the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2004, U.S. soldiers seized tanks, anti-aircraft weapons, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and more than 420,000 pounds of plastic explosives at the camp. Prosecutors allege that Taleb-Jedi told FBI agents at the time she "wholeheartedly" supported the group and that two informants have since identified her as a member of a leadership council.
Taleb-Jedi’s lawyer predicted the allegations won’t hold up at trial in Brooklyn.
"Real questions remain about what the government says Ms. Taleb-Jedi actually did, and we look forward to a jury hearing the whole story," attorney Justine Harris said.
"Once the evidence is presented at trial, we will all have to revisit the very serious constitutional issues at stake."
Prosecutors did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment Thursday.
If convicted, Taleb-Jedi faces up to 15 years in prison.
By TOM HAYS, Associated Press Writer, July 25, 2008