BOSTON - Three former leaders of an Islamic charity were convicted Friday of duping the U.S. government into awarding their organization tax-exempt status by hiding the group's pro-jihad activities.

Care International Inc., which is now defunct, described its mission as helping war orphans, widows and refugees in Muslim countries. But prosecutors said the organization also distributed a newsletter promoting jihad and supported Muslim militants involved in armed conflicts around the world.

Emadeddin Muntasser, the founder of Care International; Muhammed Mubayyid, the group's former treasurer; and Samir Al-Monla, the president of Care from 1996 to 1998, were charged with tax code violations, making false statements and conspiracy to defraud the United States.

After a two-month trial and more than two weeks of deliberations, a federal jury found them guilty on all counts, except a false-statements count on which Al-Monla was acquitted. The fraud and false-statement charges each carry maximum sentences of five years in prison and fines of $250,000, while the tax charges carry a maximum three years in prison and a $100,000 fine.

U.S. District Judge Dennis Saylor scheduled sentencing hearings in early April.

"Today's verdict is a milestone in our efforts against those who conceal their support for extremist causes behind the veil of humanitarianism. For years, these defendants used an allegedly charitable organization as a front for the collection of donations that they converted for the purpose of supporting violent jihadists," Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Wainstein in Washington said in a statement.

Defence lawyers, who did not immediately return calls for comment Friday, had accused prosecutors of trying to sensationalize the charges into a terrorism case by highlighting the newsletter.

Muntasser, 43, owner of the Logan Furniture Co., was born in Libya and now lives in Braintree. Mubayyid, 42, was born in Lebanon and now lives in Shrewsbury. Al-Monla, 50, was born in Kuwait, now lives in Brookline and is a U.S. citizen.

Their group, which was not affiliated with the well-known global relief organization CARE International, raised $1.7 million in donations from 1993 to 2001.

Prosecutors said the men failed to disclose that Care was a successor to the Boston branch of the Al-Kifah Refugee Center in New York, which was linked to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. The centre was a recruitment office for Mektab al Khidmat, which Osama bin Laden co-founded in the 1980s to recruit mujahideen to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan, according to the Sept. 11 Commission.

Prosecutors alleged that Care was raising money to support mujahideen, defined in the indictment as "Muslim holy warriors," and that it published the pro-jihadist newsletter called "al-Hussam," which means "The Sword" in Arabic.

Prosecutors acknowledged Care did some legitimate charity work, but said the group concealed non-charitable activities from the government. Specifically, prosecutors said the men did not tell the government it supported mujahideen in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya, Pakistan and other countries. Care also used a portion of its donations to publish an English translation of "Join the Caravan," a pro-jihad book.

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