[Ppnews] Another trial alleging support for Hamas starts in Dallas

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Jul 16 10:39:46 EDT 2007

Stakes high in Holy Land trial

After 14-year inquiry, biggest terror-financing case gets under way

12:00 AM CDT on Monday, July 16, 2007

By JASON TRAHAN / The Dallas Morning News
<mailto:jtrahan at dallasnews.com>jtrahan at dallasnews.com

Three months after 9/11, President Bush shut down 
Richardson's Holy Land Foundation, saying 
millions of dollars it sent to the Middle East 
helped "indoctrinate children to grow up into suicide bombers."

Federal agents raided the Holy Land Foundation 
offices in Richardson and those in three other cities on Dec. 4, 2001.

Now the Justice Department must prove it.

Today, jury selection begins in Dallas in the 
nation's biggest terror-financing case yet: The 
federal government says that seven foundation 
organizers illegally sent at least $12 million 
overseas to the militant Palestinian group Hamas.

'They haven't seized anything but American good 
will that's being sent to areas where American 
charities are needed,' said John Janney (right), 
Holy Land spokesman, after the group's assets 
were frozen on Dec. 4, 2001. He spoke at a news conference with Ghassan Elashi.

The stakes are high for the Bush administration. 
The Department of Justice has already failed to 
get convictions on charges of supporting and 
financing terrorism in high-profile trials of men in Florida and Illinois.

Holy Land and the seven men are not accused of 
providing direct financing for terrorist acts, 
but of sending money to an organization that 
committed terrorist acts. Hamas, known for 
sponsoring suicide bombings targeting Israelis, 
but also for aiding Palestinian families caught 
in the bloody Arab-Israeli conflict, was declared 
a terrorist organization by the U.S. in 1995.

"Our defense is that our clients never gave any 
money to Hamas, and that their charitable 
projects in Palestine were no different than many 
other charitable organizations," said John Boyd, 
a Holy Land Foundation attorney. "They did nothing to support terrorism."

Supporters of Holy Land, which was the largest 
Muslim charity in the U.S., say anti-Muslim 
prejudice and pressure from the Israeli 
government are behind the 14-year-old U.S. 
government effort to criminalize the foundation's work.

Dallas prosecutors, who declined to comment 
publicly about the trial, already have a number 
of notches on their belts in dealing with some of 
Holy Land's former associates.

Juries have convicted the foundation's former 
board chairman, Ghassan Elashi, and his brothers 
for doing business with Libya and Syria – deemed 
state sponsors of terrorism – through a 
computer-services firm closely tied to Holy Land.

Mr. Elashi and two of his brothers were also 
convicted for financial dealings with Mousa Abu 
Marzook, a longtime Hamas operative in the U.S. 
who is now the deputy of Hamas' political bureau 
in Syria. He is married to a cousin of the Elashis.

In this trial, expected to last at least three 
months, the government's evidence includes 
mountains of documents, including reams of 
bank-transaction records and at least a decade of 
secret wiretap evidence detailing conversations 
among Holy Land officials and alleged conspirators.

The jury may consider thousands of pages of 
Israeli government evidence of the foundation's 
dealings in the Middle East, and the prosecution 
is planning to call at least two Israeli secret agents to the stand.

Dennis Lormel, who created the FBI's Terrorist 
Financing Operations Section and was its chief 
for years, said the case is historic. He said the 
foundation's activities did not put Americans at 
direct risk, but the case is of vital importance to national security.

"In the global sense, it does affect us because 
of the deterrent effect cracking down on this has 
had on terrorist organizations using charities to 
carry out violent acts," he said.


On trial Monday, besides Mr. Elashi, are:

• Shukri Abu Baker, former Holy Land CEO.

• Mohammad El-Mezain, the foundation's original 
chairman who became director of endowments.

• Mufid Abdulqader, a top fundraiser, a former 
city of Dallas project coordinator who oversaw 
the Bishop Arts District renovaton and half 
brother of Khalid Mishal, the Hamas political bureau chief.

• Abdulrahman Odeh, Holy Land's New Jersey representative.

Mr. Elashi is in prison on other charges, and the 
others remain free prior to trial.

Two other defendants, Haitham Maghawri, the 
foundation's former executive director, and Akram 
Mishal, former project and grants director and 
cousin of Khalid Mishal, left the U.S. and are considered fugitives.

The U.S. government first began investigating 
Holy Land in 1993 – a year after it relocated from California to Richardson.

That was the year Israeli agents detained an 
Illinois man, Muhammad Salah, on suspicion that 
he was a Hamas operative. He confessed, telling 
agents that the Richardson charity was a key 
Hamas fundraiser, but then recanted, claiming he was tortured.

This year he was convicted of lying in a civil 
suit about his Hamas ties, but his explanation of 
how Hamas raised funds in the U.S. was key to 
federal investigators, who set to work gaining intelligence on Holy Land.

Prosecutors say some of Holy Land's fundraising 
gatherings featured radical Islamic clerics.

"At these events," the Dallas Holy Land 
indictment states, participants "praised Hamas 
through speeches, songs and violent dramatic 
skits depicting the killing of Jewish people."

But the government says the foundation's tactics 
changed around 1993. In February of that year, 
Islamic militants made their first attempt to 
bring down the World Trade Center in New York.

And Hamas became incensed when, in late summer, 
Arab and Jewish representatives forged the 
historic Middle East agreement in Oslo, Norway, 
opening up the possibility of a peace that would 
allow for separate Jewish and Palestinian states. 
That set off what has become hundreds of Hamas 
suicide bombings over the years, targeting Israelis.

In October 1993, intelligence agents listened in 
on a groundbreaking meeting in Philadelphia 
between three Holy Land Foundation officials – 
all three defendants in this latest Dallas case – 
and Hamas contacts. The discussion centered on 
how to continue to raise money in America without attracting attention.

"The attendees acknowledged the need to avoid 
scrutiny by law enforcement officials in the 
United States by masquerading their operations 
under the cloak of charitable exercise," the indictment states.

In 1995, U.S. authorities detained Mr. Marzook in 
New York and found documents on him related to 
another Richardson business, InfoCom, which was 
run by Mr. Elashi and his brothers.

Six years later and six days before 9/11, FBI 
agents raided InfoCom, investigating ties to Mr. 
Marzook and evidence that the company supported terrorism.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Holy Land officials 
publicly decried the "heinous acts" and said they 
had limited ties to InfoCom and none to 
terrorism. But the two offices were directly 
across from each other and shared employees, some of whom were related.

In December 2001, Mr. Bush shuttered the 
foundation, seizing millions in assets in 
multiple states. On July 26, 2004, a Dallas 
federal grand jury returned a 42-count indictment 
against the foundation and the seven former 
officers, charging that the millions went to 
Middle Eastern charity committees controlled by Hamas.

Holy Land agrees the money went to the 
Palestinian charities, but not Hamas and not for 
terrorism. Federal prosecutors are expected to 
argue that the money ended up under the control 
of Hamas, which was then able to free up other money for terrorist activities.

To get a conviction, prosecutors must prove to 
jurors that the defendants sent the money knowing that it would benefit Hamas.

Behind bars

Mr. Elashi, the 53-year-old former Holy Land 
Foundation board chairman, is serving nearly 
seven years for convictions in 2004 and 2005 
related to InfoCom. Mr. Elashi also was InfoCom's 
vice president for international marketing.

In the first trial, a jury found that Mr. Elashi 
and his four brothers conspired to ship computer 
equipment to Syria and Libya, which violated U.S. 
export bans on commerce with state sponsors of terrorism.

A year later, Mr. Elashi and two of his brothers 
were convicted of conspiring with Mr. Marzook to 
launder at least a quarter-million dollars through InfoCom.

In addition to the federal government's assertion 
that Holy Land deals with terrorists, two federal 
judges presiding over separate civil cases have 
also found that the Holy Land Foundation has ties to Hamas.

In 2004, an Israeli-American couple successfully 
won a $156 million civil judgment in Chicago 
against Mr. Salah, Holy Land and two other Muslim 
organizations – including the Islamic Association 
for Palestine formerly based in Richardson. A 
judge found them liable for the death of the 
couple's 17-year-old son, David Boim, a seminary 
student, who was shot to death by Hamas gunmen 
while waiting for a bus near Jerusalem.

In a separate case, a Washington federal judge in 
2002 struck down a challenge by Holy Land 
attorneys to the U.S. government's seizing of the 
foundation's assets. "There is evidence that HLF 
raised funds for Hamas, that Hamas provided 
financial support to HLF, and that HLF paid for 
Hamas leaders to travel to the United States on 
fund-raising trips," U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler wrote.

Similar trials

But a conviction in this latest case is far from guaranteed.

In at least two other similar, high-profile 
federal trials in Illinois and Florida of men 
with long ties to the Holy Land Foundation and 
some of its associates, the government failed to 
convince jurors that terrorists were getting 
direct support from U.S. contacts.

In early February, a jury in Chicago acquitted 
Mr. Salah on charges that he conspired to aid 
Hamas and funnel money from inside the U.S. to militants abroad.

Mr. Salah is the man who first tipped authorities 
to Holy Land's connection to Hamas, then later 
denied he was a Hamas operative. Last week, an 
Illinois federal judge sentenced him to 21 months 
in prison for lying in the Boim wrongful-death case.

In another case, a Florida jury in 2005 acquitted 
a former University of South Florida computer 
engineering professor, Sami Al-Arian, of charges 
that he helped coordinate and fund terrorist 
operations for Palestinian Islamic Jihad against Israel.

The professor was a vocal advocate of Palestine 
who also operated an Islamic charity with ties to 
the information clearinghouse Islamic Association 
for Palestine which shared associates with Holy Land.

After a five-month trial in Tampa, a jury 
acquitted Dr. Al-Arian on charges of supporting 
terrorism and deadlocked after 13 days of 
grueling deliberations on other charges.

Dr. Al-Arian agreed to plead guilty to a 
watered-down charge of providing support to 
Palestinian Islamic Jihad in exchange for being 
deported, but he remains in U.S. custody on a contempt charge.

Experts say Dallas prosecutors have a better chance of proving their case.

"The government may have more specific 
information that the defendants specifically 
intended to aid the families of suicide bombers," 
said Peter Margulies, a law professor at Roger 
Williams University who studies terrorism prosecutions.

"In addition, the complaint indicates that the 
conduct of the defendants occurred after 1996. 
This also sets the case apart from Salah and 
Al-Arian, which were arguably stale charges dating from the early-mid '90s."

Counting convictions isn't the point, said Mr. 
Lormel, the former FBI terror-financing expert.

"Critics can take their shots at the cases that 
have occurred, but in the end, the chilling 
effect that these prosecutions have had on these 
charities and the terrorists who want to use them is real," he said.

If prosecutors can convince jurors that death 
resulted from the defendants' support of Hamas, 
they could be sentenced to up to life in prison.

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