- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 18, 2007

DALLAS (AP) — The Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development was once the largest Muslim charity in the United States, but federal prosecutors argued yesterday that underneath its surface lay an ominous goal: financing international terrorism.

After two months of testimony, closing arguments began yesterday in the trial of the foundation and five of its leaders on charges of aiding terrorists, conspiracy and money laundering.

The defense said the foundation was helping ordinary Palestinians in need.

Prosecutor Barry Jonas told the jury yesterday that the Holy Land Foundation wasn’t a normal charity. Authorities said the foundation funneled more than $12 million to Palestinian schools and charities controlled by the militant group Hamas after the U.S. government declared Hamas a terrorist group in 1995, which made supporting it illegal.

Mr. Jonas played several videotapes in a bid to use the defendants’ words against them. One, he said, showed people singing pro-Hamas songs at a Holy Land fundraiser. Another captured one of the defendants, former Holy Land Chairman Mohammed El-Mezain, urging force to remove Jews from former Arab lands.

“The intifada has risen so that the people as a whole return to jihad and Palestine returns, from the river to the sea,” Mr. El-Mezain said on the tape. Mr. Jonas said the comments showed the defendants’ desire to finance those fighting against Israel.

If the defendants are found guilty, and the jury determines their actions resulted in deaths, the men could face up to life in prison.

The case may hinge on whether the jury believes Hamas controlled the Palestinian charities that received money.

Retired U.S. diplomat Edward Abington testified that the charities that received Holy Land Foundation money were not under Hamas control. Former Texas congressman John Bryant, who briefly represented the foundation, testified that he asked the FBI and State Department to warn him if any of the charities had terrorist ties but got no response.

The government’s case relies heavily on thousands of pages of documents such as bank records and on videotapes and audiotapes that showed some of the defendants meeting with Hamas members and supporters.

A letter sent to Shukri Abu Baker, Holy Land’s chief executive, assessed whether leaders of the Palestinian charities were friend or foe.

At one charity, the unknown author told Mr. Baker, “We have nobody in it,” but at another, “All of it is ours, and it is guaranteed.” An FBI agent said the latter reference meant that Hamas controlled the group.

But the letter, and much of the other evidence in the case, dated to the early 1990s or before. And a key witness who claimed the Palestinian charities were Hamas fronts was an Israeli official who was allowed to testify without being identified. He acknowledged that none of the groups appeared on U.S. government terrorist lists.

The Holy Land Foundation was shut down in December 2001, and its assets were seized by the federal government.

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