NEW YORK (Reuters) - Two men accused of agreeing to broadcast the Hezbollah television channel al-Manar to U.S. customers will face trial on terrorism charges in January, a U.S. judge ruled on Wednesday.
U.S. District Judge Richard Berman set January 5, 2009, as the trial date for Javed Iqbal, 44 and Saleh Elahwal, 55, in what defense lawyers said was one of the more unusual terrorism cases moving through U.S. courts.
Iqbal was arrested and initially charged in August 2006 on allegations he negotiated on behalf of his Brooklyn-based company HDTV Ltd with representatives of the Beirut-based al-Manar network to air the channel in America.
Iqbal, a Pakistani who moved to the United States more than 25 years ago, and Elahwal, who lives in New Jersey and who prosecutors say also operated HDTV, were indicted three months later. Initial court documents said they were paid more than $111,000 by al-Manar between December 2005 and March 2006.
Both men have been released on bail after pleading not guilty to 11 charges, including providing satellite services to al-Manar, providing support to Hezbollah and violating the United Nations Participation Act of 1945.
If convicted on all the charges, they each face a combined maximum of more than 100 years in prison.
Hezbollah, an Iranian- and Syrian-backed Shi’ite Muslim group with a powerful guerrilla army, was designated by the U.S. Secretary of State as a terrorist organization in 1997.
The U.S. Treasury branded al-Manar a terrorist organization in March 2006, saying it supported Hezbollah’s fund-raising and recruitment activities.
Elahwal’s lawyer, Ed Sapone, said little precedent had been set for a case that centered on accusations of supporting terrorism by providing satellite communications. Iqbal’s lawyer was unavailable for comment.
“These are uncommon charges even in a climate given which terrorism is being prosecuted throughout the country,” said Sapone. “It is uncommon for the government to charge the (terrorism) material support element as being satellite services.”
The men face similar penalties and charges as those accused of aiding actual attack plots by groups such as al Qaeda.
Editing by Michelle Nichols and John O'Callaghan