The Holyland Foundation terror charity part of plot to "destroy Western civilisation from within" documentation links
August 27, 2007
Agent: Holy Land charity was part of plot Testimony about '93 meeting highlight of methodical trial facing jury concerns
August 8, 2007
By JASON TRAHAN / The Dallas Morning News
An FBI agent told jurors this week that Holy Land Foundation organizers met in 1993 with nearly two dozen others plotting to derail the Palestinian-Israeli peace accords by secretly supporting the terrorist group Hamas while appearing to be a legitimate charity.
"War is deception," said Holy Land CEO Shukri Abu Baker, according to an FBI transcript of the Philadelphia meeting, which was bugged. "We are fighting our enemy with a kind heart. ... Deceive, camouflage, pretend that you're leaving while you're walking that way."
Jurors in the Holy Land Foundation case have spent more than a week trying to digest a dizzying array of Arab names, reading transcripts of wiretapped phone calls and listening to hours of often dry testimony. In the end, prosecutors hope to prove to them that the former Richardson charity knew its humanitarian aid would benefit Hamas, which the U.S. has designated as a terrorist organization since 1995.
Whether the often-disjointed snatches of conversation and documents presented to the jurors are enough to convince them that the defendants supported terrorism is unclear. Some of the events and the documents date to the late 1980s – well before supporting Hamas was outlawed in the U.S.
Defense attorneys have lodged a steady stream of objections to the government's evidence, and even moved for a mistrial, which U.S. District Judge A. Joe Fish dismissed. They say that their five clients provided humanitarian aid to Palestinians and did not support Hamas.
Case's fate unclear
Whether the case will reach the jury for deliberations has become an open question. The trial started with a jury of 12 and a pool of six alternates.
But Judge Fish excused two jurors last week because they were having financial problems from missing too much work. On Monday, a third juror was excused without explanation, leaving three alternates for the rest of the trial, which could last nearly until Halloween.
A juror whom the judge has admonished for sleeping remains on the dwindling panel.
And at least one juror has told the judge she wants to stay on – even though she says she was fired from a local grocery store because she is missing work to serve on the jury. The judge on Tuesday told attorneys that the juror said that the store's management told her she was fired for allegedly stealing a 99-cent salad, which she said she intended to pay for.
Firing someone who misses work to serve on a jury is illegal. Judge Fish is appointing an employment attorney to investigate the store's decision. The juror was working as a weekend clerk when she was fired after 17 years on the job.
A steady crowd of Holy Land supporters has attended the trial each day, and family members post updates on the Web site freedomtogive.com. On the blog, registered to Noor Elashi, daughter of defendant Ghassan Elashi, jurors are described as trying to "stay awake" for the repetitive and often disjointed evidence introduced by government prosecutors.
"Some of the now 15-member jury devoted their full attention to reading the translated transcripts," according to the blog, describing Monday's testimony. "Other jurors, on the other hand, listened like uneager 7th graders with their loud sighs, closed eyes and constant yawns. It was obvious to many that the wiretapped calls were anything but appealing."
Prosecutors and defense attorneys are barred from talking about the case to reporters.
Supporters have long accused the U.S. of bowing to pressure from Israel to go after Holy Land and several other Muslim charities because of post-9/11 prejudice.
The government alleges that Holy Land sent at least $12 million in humanitarian aid to Palestinian families from 1995 until the charity was shuttered in 2001. Prosecutors must prove the money was meant to help Hamas.
Most of the nearly 400 exhibits introduced so far by the government in what is the largest terrorist-financing case in U.S. history have come through FBI Special Agent Lara Burns, the lead investigator on the case. She finished her sixth full day on the stand Tuesday. Defense attorneys are expected to begin cross-examination today.
This week, Agent Burns read transcripts from the 1993 Philadelphia meeting, which took place at the same time as the Oslo peace accords and included nearly two dozen men, some with Hamas ties, from various Muslim organizations in the U.S.
Some who attended would later found and run the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, this country's most visible Muslim civil rights group. CAIR and hundreds of other Muslim individuals and organizations are listed as unindicted co-conspirators in the case.
"The organizations must work to fulfill basic needs of the Movement in the areas of specializations such as journalism, law, politics, media, education and investment," Mr. Baker said, according to an FBI transcript of the meeting. "Work must be done to make America a support for the inside by organizing relationships between organizations."
Agent Burns testified that "the Movement" meant Hamas. The meeting's attendees forbade the use of the word, referring to it instead as "Samah," the group's name spelled backward.
Mr. Baker, however, later testified in a deposition in a lawsuit over the death of an American-Israeli teenager in a Hamas drive-by shooting in Jerusalem, that the references to Samah, which he said means forgiveness in Arabic, were an ironic play on words, not an attempt to talk in code.
Laying out the case
Prosecutors have laid out a broad conspiracy through questioning Agent Burns, seeking to highlight ties among the Holy Land Foundation and other Muslim groups across the country, including the Islamic Association for Palestine, which published Hamas' charter and was also based for a time in Richardson, and Mousa Abu Marzook, currently Hamas' No. 2 political leader.
A previous Dallas jury found that Mr. Elashi, the former board chairman of Holy Land who also attended the 1993 meeting, had business dealings with Mr. Marzook through the family company InfoCom. But prosecutors in this case have fleshed out the relationship with Holy Land and Mr. Marzook, contending they swapped tens of thousands of dollars.
The goal of the conspiracy, according to prosecutors, was to strengthen Hamas' financial and propaganda base in America, which Hamas considered a "cash cow," according to an earlier government expert witness.
A 1991 document the government entered into evidence this week from the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas' parent organization, outlines its goals in America as "a kind of grand jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and sabotaging its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God's religion is made victorious over all other religions."
Holy Land Trial Facts
The allegation: The federal government says Richardson-based Holy Land Foundation and seven organizers illegally sent at least $12 million overseas to the militant Palestinian group Hamas. The U.S. declared Hamas a terrorist organization in 1995.
On trial: Ghassan Elashi, former Holy Land board chairman; 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 and a former city of Dallas public works supervisor; and Abdulrahman Odeh, Holy Land's New Jersey representative. Two others are fugitives.
Possible sentence: If prosecutors can convince jurors that death resulted from the defendants' support of Hamas, they could face up to life in prison.
Jury watch: Originally 12 jurors and six alternates, the jury is now down to three alternates in a trial in which testimony began on July 25 and is expected to last until October. A fourth juror has been fired from her job but says she's committed to staying for the whole trial.
Archive: The Holy Land Foundation saga
11:51 PM CDT on Tuesday, August 7, 2007
Fostering unrest or helping the poor? (06/11/00)