Daniel Nasaw in Washington and agencies
November 24 2008
A Dallas, Texas jury today convicted a once-prominent Muslim charity and five of its former leaders of financing the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, rejecting the defendants’ assertion the men were aiding Palestinians oppressed by the Israeli occupation.
The US government has described the prosecution of the defunct Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development as a necessary action in the US war on terrorism, accusing its leaders of funnelling more than $12m to Palestinian schools and charities controlled by Hamas, which controls the Gaza strip.
The US state department declared it a terrorist group in 1995, making such contributions illegal.
Prosecutor Jim Jacks described the defendants as “leaders of Hamas in the United States” who revelled in the group’s message of martyrdom, jihad and “killing Jews”. The government described the local recipients of Holy Land aid as terrorist recruiters.
Holy Land was the nation’s largest Muslim charity before it was shut down in December 2001. President George Bush personally announced the government’s freezing of the group’s assets, calling the move “another step in the war on terrorism”.
The verdict in the seven-week trial may constitute a final victory for Bush as he turns over the reins of foreign policy and of the war on terrorism over to President-elect Barack Obama. Obama has not indicated he will seek a new course with Hamas, nor suggested he will cease terrorism-financing prosecutions.
Ghassan Elashi, Holy Land’s former chairman, and Shukri Abu-Baker, the chief executive, were convicted of a combined 69 counts, including supporting a specially designated terrorist, money laundering and tax fraud.
Mufid Abdulqader and Abdulrahman Odeh were convicted of three counts of conspiracy, and Mohammed El-Mezain was convicted of one count of conspiracy to support a terrorist organisation. Holy Land itself was convicted of all 32 counts.
The organisation’s defence attorneys argued it had cast politics aside, helping Palestinians suffering under the Israeli occupation.
“It’s a sad day,” said Mohammed Wafa Yaish, Holy Land’s former accountant and himself a witness of the trial, told the Dallas Morning News. “It looks like helping the needy Palestinians is a crime these days.”
This was the second trial for the group. A trial last year ended in mistrial.