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Monday, November 24, 2008

Holy Land Foundation defendants guilty on all counts, they illegaly funneled at least $12 million to the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas.

Holy Land Foundation defendants guilty on all counts; 04:44 PM EST on Monday, November 24, 2008 By JASON TRAHAN at The Dallas Morning News


A jury on Monday determined that the Holy Land Foundation and five men who worked with the Muslim charity were guilty of three dozen counts related to the illegal funneling of at least $12 million to the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas.

The unanimous verdicts are a complete victory for the government, which streamlined its case and worked hard to carefully educate jurors on the complex, massive evidence presented in the trial. Guilty verdicts were read on 108 separate charges.

The prosecution victory is also a major one for the lame duck administration of President George Bush, whose efforts at fighting terrorism financing in court have been troubled, even though the flow of funds seems to be effectively shut down. It was the second trial where the government attempted to convict the men and the now defunct Richardson-based Holy Land Foundation itself. It took the jury eight days of deliberations to reach its decisions — less than half the time it took jurors to deadlock end up with an almost complete mistrial last year on the first go-around. By 3 p.m. Monday, jurors had been sent back to the jury room to determine if Holy Land assets should be forfeited to the government because of several convictions on money laundering charges related to the case.

Opening statements at the Earle Cabell Federal Courthouse in downtown Dallas began Sept. 22. Over the past two months, prosecutors attempted to prove that five former charity organizers used Holy Land, once the largest Muslim charity in the U.S., to funnel an estimated $60 million to the militant group — most of it before 1995.Hamas was designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. in 1995, and the trial centered on the $12 million the government said Holy Land and supporters funneled to the group after that date.Defense attorneys argued that the foundation was a legitimate, non-political charity that helped distressed Palestinians under Israeli occupation.

They accused the government of bending to Israeli pressure to prosecute the charity, and of relying on old evidence predating the 1995 designation.Holy Land was formed in the late 1980s, and was shut down by U.S. government regulators in December 2001. The case was indicted in 2004. Last year’s trial of the same five defendants ended in a hung jury Oct. 22, 2007. Jurors deliberated for 19 days before they deadlocked.

It was the second trial where the government attempted to convict the men and the now defunct Richardson-based Holy Land Foundation itself. It took the jury eight days of deliberations to reach its decisions — less than half the time it took jurors to deadlock end up with an almost complete mistrial last year on the first go-around.

By 3 p.m. Monday, jurors had been sent back to the jury room to determine if Holy Land assets should be forfeited to the government because of several convictions on money laundering charges related to the case.

Opening statements at the Earle Cabell Federal Courthouse in downtown Dallas began Sept. 22. Over the past two months, prosecutors attempted to prove that five former charity organizers used Holy Land, once the largest Muslim charity in the U.S., to funnel an estimated $60 million to the militant group — most of it before 1995.Hamas was designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. in 1995, and the trial centered on the $12 million the government said Holy Land and supporters funneled to the group after that date.Defense attorneys argued that the foundation was a legitimate, non-political charity that helped distressed Palestinians under Israeli occupation.

They accused the government of bending to Israeli pressure to prosecute the charity, and of relying on old evidence predating the 1995 designation.Holy Land was formed in the late 1980s, and was shut down by U.S. government regulators in December 2001. The case was indicted in 2004. Last year’s trial of the same five defendants ended in a hung jury Oct. 22, 2007. Jurors deliberated for 19 days before they deadlocked.

Defendants/ Convicted terrorists in the Holy Land trial; 1). Ghassan Elashi, 53, of Richardson, was born in the Gaza Strip in 1953. His family left when he was a teenager, and moved to Egypt. Mr. Elashi and his brothers also started InfoCom, and computer services firm across the street from Holy Land. Mr. Elashi and his wife have six children.

2). Shukri Abu Baker, 48, of Garland, was born in Brazil in 1959 to a father from the West Bank and a Brazilian mother, who converted to Islam. When he was a child, he and his family moved to Palestine. He also lived in Kuwait before coming to the U.S. in 1980. He received a bachelor's in business administration from Orlando College in Florida, He became a U.S. citizen in 1989. He moved to California where he helped found the Holy Land Foundation. He served as foundation CEO when it moved to Richardson. In addition to Sanabel, now 20, Mr. Baker and his wife have three other daughters.

3). Mufid Abdulqader, 48, was born in the West Bank in 1959. He lived in Kuwait before coming to the U.S. in 1980. He lived in Oklahoma, where he received bachelor's and master's degrees in civil engineering both from Oklahoma State University, before moving to Richardson in 1996. Mr. Abdulqader, a U.S. citizen, worked as a civil engineer for the city of Dallas, and among other projects, oversaw the Bishop Arts District renovation.


4). Abdulrahman Odeh, 48, was born in the West Bank in 1959. He grew up in Kuwait and came to the U.S. in 1982. Mr. Odeh, a U.S. citizen, received a bachelor' degree in computer science from Montclair State University in New Jersey, and started Holy Land's office there in 1994.. He has three children.

5). Mohammad El-Mezain, 54, was born in the Gaza Strip in 1953. As a young adult, he moved to Egypt and got a bachelor's degree in business from Al-Azhar University. He also memorized the Koran. He moved around the Middle East before coming to the U.S. in 1983. He got a master's degree in economics from Colorado State University, and also lived in New Jersey. He was an imam, or prayer leader, in both cities before moving to California to run Holy Land's office there in 1999. He and his wife have eight children.

Even before the verdicts were read, supporters on both side of the aisle were prepared to claim a moral victory. Critics of the government case argued that even convictions would carry an asterisk noting that it took untold millions of taxpayer dollars, 15 years of investigation and two long, high-profile trials to finally convince a jury of the defendants’ guilt.

Mr. Ashqar and Mr. Sami Al-Arian were acquitted in trials in Chicago and Florida on similar charges that they steered support to Palestinian terrorists. Mr. Ashqar was sentenced to 11 years in prison last year for refusing to testify for a grand jury about his Hamas ties. Dr. Al-Arian pleaded guilty in 2006 to a charge of supporting Palestinian Islamic Jihad and is being held on contempt charges for refusing to co-operate in another terrorism support investigation. But both are viewed as folk heroes by some in the Muslim community.

“I think that the purpose of these trials was to further, in the minds of the public, the so-called ‘war on terrorism,’” he said. “There are legitimate terrorist organizations out there. But we’ve tried to make every group that doesn’t agree with us like al-Qaeda.” Mr. Yaish, the Holy Land accountant, said Monday that he was angry that the prosecution brought up the Taliban and al Qaeda during the trial. He called that a fear tactic.

But the Justice Department is likely to claim victory not only with the verdicts, but by trumpeting the shutdown of what prosecutors say was a robust and unsettling American network of terrorist funding. Holy Land, regardless of the verdict, is defunct. And other international terrorism financing pipelines have been interrupted.

“The government has achieved an awful lot of success here,” said Dennis Lormel, who created the FBI’s Terrorist Financing Operations Section after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and is now a security consultant. “A lot of people will only look at the win/lose of the jury verdict,” said Mr. Lormel, of IPSA International Inc. “I’m looking at it from the perspective of the flow of funding through charities to terrorists. There’s been an incredible amount written and attention put out on this. That’s a deterrent to those who want to fund terrorism !


Bill Warner
Privatte Investigator
www.wbipi.com