HLF found guilty of funding Hamas

Holy Land Foundation Muslim charity trial wraps up; convicted managers face up to life in prison.

September 18, 2007 05:40
2 minute read.
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The Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development used charity as a cover to finance international terrorism, a federal prosecutor said in closing arguments in the case against the group. Prosecutors said Holy Land officials worked with the Palestinian terror organization Hamas to target aid to families of suicide bombers and militants jailed in Israel. "The HLF was helping Hamas take care of its own," said prosecutor Barry Jonas, who summed up the government's case Monday after two months of testimony in federal court. Defense attorney Nancy Hollander said prosecutors built their case on the word of one Israeli official who testified under a false name, and showed the jury only selective evidence. "Who is it that's being deceptive?" she asked jurors. "Do you really trust the government?" The government shut down the Texas-based group in December 2001 and its assets were seized. The group and five of its former leaders are on trial on charges of aiding terrorists, conspiracy and money laundering. Closing arguments are expected to finish Wednesday, and the case will go to the jury. Prosecutors say Holy Land funneled more than $12 million to Palestinian schools and charities controlled by Hamas after the US government declared Hamas a terrorist group in 1995, which made supporting it illegal. Jonas played several videotapes in a bid to use the defendants' own words against them. One, he said, showed people singing pro-Hamas songs at a Holy Land fundraiser. Another captured one defendant, former Holy Land chairman Mohammed El-Mezain, urging force to remove Jews from former Arab lands in Gaza and the West Bank. "The Intifada has risen so that the people as a whole return to Jihad and Palestine returns, from the (Jordan) river to the (Mediterranean) sea," El Mezain said on the tape. Jonas said the comments showed the defendants' desire to finance Hamas, which calls for the elimination of Israel. Jonas showed the jury bank records detailing millions in money transfers from Holy Land to Palestinian charities called zakat committees. The Israeli official, who testified under the pseudonym "Avi" at the Israeli government's request, had said that Hamas members were among the leaders of each zakat. Hollander countered that Holy Land was "a real charity" that helped "the desperately poor people of Palestine." She pointed to a 2003 report by a United Nations agency that said Holy Land and three other charities provided food to about one-fourth of the Palestinian population. Hollander said there was no evidence that the zakat committees funded by Holy Land were controlled by Hamas, and said none have ever been listed by the US government as terrorist organizations. She also took square aim at the witness who said the zakats were controlled by Hamas, the Israeli known only as Avi. "What this really comes down to is, 'What did Avi say?"' she said. Defense attorneys called a retired US consul general in Jerusalem, Edward Abington, who testified that he had been privy to CIA briefings but never heard that the Holy Land-backed zakat committees were under Hamas control. If the defendants are found guilty and the jury determines their actions resulted in deaths, the men could face up to life in prison. In addition to El-Mezain, the other defendants are former Holy Land chief executive Shukri Abu Baker, former chairman Ghassan Elashi, former fundraiser Mufid Abdulqader, and Abdulrahman Odeh, the group's representative in New Jersey. Two other men named in the indictment were never arrested and are believed to be in the Middle East.

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