[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.
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.
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.
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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