Monday, August 13, 2007

Federal prosecutors and FBI agents are building a case against a Muslim charity on trial in Dallas on charges of providing financial aid to the terrorist organization Hamas and of raising illicit cash for other extremist groups.

Five officers of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development — once considered the largest Muslim charity in the nation, but which U.S. intelligence officials have called the North American fundraiser for the Islamist terrorist group Hamas — are on trial in Dallas, charged with aiding terrorism, conspiracy and money laundering.

The prosecution has spent the two weeks of the trial so far laying out the connections between U.S. Muslim groups and Middle East terrorists.

FBI agent Lara Burns testified that the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) was listed as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestine Committee, along with the Holy Land Foundation, the Islamic Association for Palestine and the United Association for Studies and Research (UASR).

Miss Burns said CAIR received money from the foundation — an accusation that Nihad Awad, executive director and co-founder of CAIR, denied during congressional testimony in September 2003. She also said Mr. Awad was listed as a member of the Brotherhood’s Palestine Committee in America.

CAIR was named as an unindicted co-conspirator. It has denied any involvement in support for Hamas or any other labeled terrorist group.

Seven of the Foundation’s top officers were named in a 42-count indictment in 2004. They were accused of raising $36 million from 1995 through 2001 for people and organizations linked to Hamas, including $12.4 million after President Clinton designated Hamas as a terrorist organization in 1995. The foundation was accused in the indictment of conspiracy, providing support to terrorists, money-laundering and income-tax evasion.

At the time, Attorney General John Ashcroft said the indictment culminated a multiagency, 30-month investigation of an organization created to provide financial and material support to Hamas, a Palestinian terrorist group that has called for the killing of all Jews.

The original indictment said the Holy Land Foundation and its top officers provided financial support to the families of Hamas suicide bombers, detainees and activists to support its terrorist infrastructure. It also said the organization financially supported families of well-known Hamas terrorists killed or jailed by Israelis.

Those charged were Shukri Abu Baker, the foundation’s former chief executive; Holy Land Chairman Ghassan Elashi; and five directors and fundraisers, Mohammad El-Mezain, Haitham Maghawri, Akram Mishal, Mufid Abdul Qader and Abdul Raham Odeh. Maghawri and Mishal are fugitives.

The Holy Land Foundation was shut down in December 2001 and its assets seized by the federal government after the Treasury Department ruled it a terrorist group, seizing more than $4 million in assets.

Law-enforcement authorities said the Holy Land foundation is part of a nationwide conspiracy by Islamist extremists to divert cash to international terrorists through “front companies” and “phantom organizations” — many located in Northern Virginia.

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