As Pete Seda headed to trial today, a handful of supporters in Ashland made the three-hour drive to Eugene in support of the former Ashland resident who has spent the last couple of years as a fugitive.

"I knew Pete very well. He was a friend of mine," said Jim Bowne, who met Seda through activism and landscaping work.

"The government basically planted stories on the front page of the Tidings and the Medford paper and the Oregonian, which in effect convicted him in the press without any real substantiation," Bowne said. "It's part of the war on terror to make people be scared by having targets like Pete."

Seda returned to the U.S. earlier this month to face charges of federal conspiracy, money laundering and tax fraud. It is has been reported that he had been living in his native Iran since fleeing the United States. A 2005 federal indictment charged Seda with funneling about $150,000 to Saudi Arabia through the Ashland chapter of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, which Seda helped found in the late 1990s. The money purportedly funded terrorist groups fighting in Chechnya.

Seda has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

"I was surprised that he came back, because I think with the campaign they have going, he's always been a candidate for Guantanamo," Bowne said.

Bowne arrived at the Evo's Coffee Lounge parking lot at 6 a.m. today to meet up with other supporters to carpool to Eugene. Paul Copeland, who met Seda at a multi-cultural fair in Medord six or seven years ago, was the only other person who met at Evo's this morning. Copeland was en route to pick up one more person, and he said he knew of at least six other Ashlanders planning to attend the trial.

"We're going up to honor Pete's tremendous courage in coming back to deal with the civil liberties issues," Copeland said. "We're going up there to show support for Pete, and we hope that he'll be released."

In 2003, federal agents raided Seda's home, which doubled as Al-Haramain's U.S. headquarters, just after Seda, a naturalized U.S. citizen, left the country. He has been jailed since his return.

Seda, who steadfastly has denied any link to terrorism, has remained jailed without bail on a 2005 federal warrant.

During today's "detention hearing," U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin could decide whether Seda, 49, should be held without bail, released outright or set a bail amount meant to ensure he appears in court when ordered.

Seda also has filed a sealed financial affidavit that will be considered as part of today's hearing, court records show.

Prosecution and defense attorneys were mum Tuesday about what they expect to occur in court Wednesday.

Detention hearings typically delve into two issues &

whether the defendant is a flight risk or a danger to the community.

Mark Freeman of the Mail Tribune contributed to this story.