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Authorities: Man linked to terror

(ran SS edition of METRO & STATE)

Federal authorities on Monday tried to link terrorist groups to a businessman dubbed by an FBI agent as "the boss" of Orlando's tourist district, while his attorney disputed any ties to illegal activities.

The federal bail hearing for Jesse Maali, 57, a Palestinian-American who owns T-shirt shops, gift shops and restaurants near theme parks and hotels, focused more on his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than it did on the immigration violation and conspiracy charges he was arrested on last week.

The bond hearing is to continue today, when U.S. Magistrate David A. Baker is to decide whether to keep Maali locked up until trial.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Cynthia Collazo, while questioning FBI Special Agent Stephen Thomas, said Maali, a naturalized U.S. citizen, should stay in jail because he was a flight risk with a Jordanian passport, held bank accounts abroad and had provided financial support to terrorist groups.

The prosecutor and FBI agent also suggested that poems and an essay Maali had written advocated suicide bombings in Israel and that the businessman, through a surrogate, had threatened a potential witness in a relative's drug case.

Mark NeJame, Maali's defense attorney, said the allegations are untrue.

Thomas, under oath, cited as evidence of Maali's support for terrorism a $50,000 check Maali sent in 2000 to the Society of Ina'ash El-Usra, a charity whose Web site says it provides food, clothing and medicine to families of political prisoners in Israel.

The check was deposited by the charity in the Al Aqsa Islamic Bank in Ramallah, which is an arm of Hamas, the terrorist group, Thomas said. The bank has been placed on a federal list of foreign terrorist organizations.

But NeJame said the charity is sanctioned by the United Nations and that the bank wasn't placed on the list until 1{ years after Maali made the contribution.

"My client did nothing illegal by writing that check in 2000?" NeJame asked Thomas.

"Not that I know of," Thomas said.

About 300 of Maali's family members and friends gathered outside the federal courthouse during the hearing.

Maali, his business partner and three employees were indicted on 53 counts of immigration violations, a count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and a count of conspiracy to commit violations of immigration laws last week.