Former HLF volunteer continues testifying against defendants (Oct. 17, 2008)

Shame seemed to have smeared off the face of former Holy Land Foundation volunteer Mohamed Shorbagi on Friday, Oct. 17, 2008 as he continued his testimony against the defendants. He seemed more confident, and his voice seemed more assertive, with fewer discussions about the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

Prosecutor Jim Jacks asked Shorbagi about a closed meeting he attended in 1992 as part of a MAYA (Muslim Arab Youth Association) convention. He said the meeting’s main speaker, Musa Abu Marzook, told approximately 150 individuals about Hamas and how it was becoming “a major player” in Middle Eastern politics. He said defendants Ghassan Elashi, Shukri Abu-Baker and Mohammad El-Mezain were among the meeting’s attendees.

Shorbagi—who was an Imam at a mosque in Rome, Georgia—said he helped collect funds for the HLF beginning in 1993. He said he heard from Mohammad El-Mezain that the HLF gave money to zakat (charity) committees in Palestine. And I know some of those zakat committees were controlled by Hamas leaders, Shorbagi claimed. He said the Hamas-controlled committees include Nablus Zakat Committee, Jenin Zakat Committee, Ramallah Zakat Committee and Hebron Zakat Committee. The HLF kept sending money to these zakat committees even after Hamas was designated in 1995, he said. The sources that helped him reach his conclusion are Hamas leaflets, various media outlets and the Internet.

He also claimed that IAP (Islamic Association for Palestine) was part of Hamas because a lot of their publications and events praised Hamas. He then talked about a closed-door meeting at an IAP convention, where Shorbagi remembered seeing a couple of the defendants. Hamas leader Khalid Mishal talked about the roles that American residents should have in regards to helping Hamas. During the meeting, the attendees ended up splitting up in various committees: a political group led by Musa Abu Marzook, a media group that included Shorbagi and a charity group led by defendant El-Mezain.

The following argument was perhaps the government’s most bizarre one yet: Shorbagi was employed by Samir Khatib, a wealthy Palestinian-American man who owned a carpet-manufacturing company in Georgoa. Shorbagi said Khatib gave annual donations to the HLF in large amounts, ranging from $50,000 to $150,000. Shorbagi told a perplexed jury that Khatib was mentally unstable, diagnosed with manic depression, a form of bipolarity. During one of his manic states in 1994, Khatib was willing to give the HLF $1 million. And when he’s in that stage, he thought he was the king of the world; nobody could change his mind, Shorbagi said. After insisting on sending the check, Shorbagi took Khatib to the post office. Khatib stepped out for a few moments to smoke a cigarette. He then met back with Shorbagi and asked him if he mailed the check. Shorbagi said he mailed it—but he lied. Shorbagi claimed he hid the check in his pocket because he wanted to discuss the large payment with Khatib’s brother, who was overseas at the time. Shorbagi said he called defendant El-Mezain and told him the HLF will not be receiving Khatib’s donation because he was in manic mode. But Shorbagi told El-Mezain to say he got the donation if Khatib were to call El-Mezain. And when Khatib called El-Mezain a few days later, El-Mezain told him he received the donation. This insignificant puzzling recollection was an attempt to discredit El-Mezain.

Shorbagi told Jacks, Ghassan Elashi was a serious business man, so I didn’t really have any type of relationship with him. Shorbagi explained that one time, Ghassan Elashi saw Khatib during one of his manic moments. Elashi suggested that Khatib start a foundation that would preserve his money. Shorbagi said the HLF would have benefited from the foundation, but it was never created.

Shorbagi then talked about why he is currently serving time in a federal prison. He stole from Khatib, by inflating commission on international shipments, he said. After splitting the profit with another individual, Shorbagi acquired $240,000. In 2006, Shorbagi was arrested for stealing from his employer and pled guilty to financially supporting Hamas. FBI agents told Shorbagi that if he cooperated with the government, they would recommend that a federal judge cut his sentence. All he has to do is tell the truth, Jacks said, then asked With regards to your testimony, have you told the truth like you were requested? Shorbagi’s answer: Yes.

Linda Moreno—who represents defendant Ghassan Elashi—addressed his dramatic sentence drop. His guilty plea, she said, dropped his sentence from life to 15 years. And after testifying in another case, his sentence was reduced to seven years.

She then clarified that most Palestinians have relatives that support either Hamas or Fatah, which are rival Palestinian parties. It’s not unusual for families to disagree on which group they support, Shorbagi proclaimed, adding that his mom supports Fatah and his dad supports Hamas. He said even his 3-year-old son knows about which uncles and cousins support Fatah and which ones support Hamas. In addition, he said he agrees with a two-state solution even though he’s a Hamas supporter.

Moreno then asked, Have you ever been to the West Bank and have you personally visited any of the zakat committees there. Shorbagi’s reponse to both questions: No.

She also asked him to elaborate on the affects of the Israeli occupation that he witnessed while growing up. He told the jury about the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who were forced to leave their homes after 1948 and were scattered in refugee camps. He talked about the Israeli checkpoints and the lack of water and medical supplies. She also asked him about HLF’s charity work, which included food, school and medical projects.

Moreno asked, Do you recall saying in an interview that when you take away hope, you cause people to do destructive things?

The witness answered, Correct.

Then would you agree that when the HLF gave food, water and shelter to the Palestinians, it gave them hope.

Yes.

Pass the witness.

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