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Holy Land Foundation
for Relief and Development
Type Defunct
Founded 1989
Headquarters Richardson, Texas
Key people Mousa Mohammed Abu Marzook
Ghassan Elashi
Shukri Abu Baker
Haitham Maghawri
Mohammad el-Mezain
Akram Mishal (half brother
of Khaled Misha'l,
the current leader of Hamas)
Mufid Abdulqader
Abdulraham Odeh
Dr. Yasser Bushnaq
(now at large in Jordan)

The Holy Land Foundation was the largest Islamic charity in the United States. It was originally known as Occupied Land Fund.[1] In 2007, federal prosecutors brought charges against the organization for funding Hamas and other Islamic terrorist organizations. Prosecutors also named the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Islamic Society of North America, and the North American Islamic Trust as unindicted co-conspirators in the case.

Its assests were frozen by the European Union[2] and U.S., and it was shut down by the U.S. government following the discovery that it was funding Hamas. The 2008 trial of the charity leaders was dubbed the "largest terrorism financing prosecution in American history."[3] In 2009, the founders of the organization were given life sentences for "funneling $12 million to Hamas."[4]

The organization's website stated: "Our mission is to find and implement practical solutions for human suffering through humanitarian programs that impact the lives of the disadvantaged, disinherited, and displaced peoples suffering from man-made and natural disasters." Their primary area of focus was with the Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories. They also provided support to victims after disasters and wars in Bosnia, Kosovo, Turkey, and the United States (after Iowa floods, Texas tornadoes, and the Oklahoma City bombing).

Contents

Terrorism charges

In December 2001, the United States Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Asset Control designated Holy Land Foundation as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist.[1] while the European Union froze its European Assets. Among the founders of the Holy Land Foundation is Mousa Mohammed Abu Marzook, a political leader of Hamas, who provided substantial funds to the Holy Land Foundation in the early 1990s. In 1994, Marzook (who was named a Specially Designated Terrorist by the Treasury Department in 1995) designated HLF as the primary fund-raising entity for Hamas in the United States. He was deported from the US to Jordan in 1997. Marzook was indicted on August 20, 2004, by a US federal grand jury in Chicago, Illinois. He and two other individuals were charged with a 15-year conspiracy to raise funds for terrorist attacks against Israel.

The Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development was designated (December 4, 2001; and re-designated May 31, 2002) under Executive Orders 13224 (Bush)[5] and 12947 (Clinton)[6] as a charity that provided millions of dollars of material and logistical support to Hamas. HLF, originally known as the Occupied Land Fund, was established in California in 1989 as a tax-exempt charity. In 1992, HLF relocated to Richardson, Texas. It had offices in California, New Jersey, and Illinois, and individual representatives scattered throughout the US, the West Bank, and Gaza. In the year 2000 alone, HLF raised over $13 million. According to the United States Department of Treasury, HLF supported Hamas activities through direct fund transfers to its offices in the West Bank and Gaza that are affiliated with Hamas, and transfers of funds to Islamic charity committees ("zakat committees") and other charitable organizations that are part of Hamas or controlled by Hamas members. The Department of Treasury also reported that HLF funds were used by Hamas to support schools that served Hamas's ends by encouraging children to become suicide bombers and to recruit suicide bombers by offering support to their families.[7]

Chronology of events

In December 2001, the assets of the organization were frozen by the FBI and Treasury agents. Treasury officials conceded that a "substantial amount" of the money raised went to worthy causes, but insisted that Holy Land's primary purpose had been to subsidize Hamas. Repeated appeals to the courts by the Holy Land Foundation to have the freeze lifted failed.

On July 27, 2004, a federal grand jury in Dallas, Texas, returned a 42-count indictment against the Holy Land Foundation.[8] Charges included: conspiracy, providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization, tax evasion, and money laundering. The indictment alleged that the Holy Land Foundation provided more than $12.4 million to individuals and organizations linked to Hamas from 1995 to 2001, when their asset were frozen. The indictment also named specific officers of the Holy Land Foundation: President Shukri Abu Baker; Chairman Ghassan Elashi; and Executive Director Haitham Maghawri, and four others: Mohammad el-Mezain, Akram Mishal, Mufid Abdulqader, and Abdulraham Odeh. Five of the seven were arrested. Maghawri and Mishal have not been found, and are considered fugitives.

In December 2004, a federal judge in Chicago ruled that the Holy Land Foundation (along with the Islamic Association of Palestine and the Quranic Literacy Institute) was liable in a $156 million dollar lawsuit for aiding and abetting the militant group Hamas in the death of a 17-year-old American citizen named David Boim.[9]

2007 trial

A Holy Land Foundation criminal trial began on July 23, 2007, at the Earl Cabell Federal Building in Dallas, Texas. On October 22, 2007, Judge Joe Fish declared a mistrial because the jurors were deadlocked.

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Testimony and evidence

It was claimed during the 2007 trial that the Justice Department fabricated quotes and modified transcripts.[10] Critics faulted much of the evidence given during the trial. The New York Times journalist Leslie Eaton said Israeli agents using pseudonyms testified for the prosecution. The government did not allege that the foundation paid directly for suicide bombings, but instead that the foundation supported terrorism by sending more than $12 million to charitable groups, known as zakat committees, which build hospitals and feed the poor. The prosecution said the committees were controlled by Hamas, and contributed to terrorism by helping Hamas spread its ideology and recruit supporters.[11]

Jurors' allegations of bullying

At least three jurors complained publicly about one juror, William Neal, citing his bullying tactics. There were complaints that he cursed at and belittled fellow jurors for taking any positions that were in favor of conviction.[12]

Mistrial

After 19 days of deliberations, the 2007 jury was unable to come to a definitive conclusion and the case ended in a mistrial. While 200 charges were filed against the defendants, the jurors had acquitted on some counts and were deadlocked on charges ranging from tax violations to providing material support for terrorists. One defendant was acquitted of most of the 32 charges against him. The New York Times reported: " The decision today is “a stunning setback for the government, there’s no other way of looking at it,” said Matthew D. Orwig, a partner at Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal who was, until recently, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas. “This is a message, a two-by-four in the middle of the forehead,” Orwig said. “If this doesn’t get their attention, they are just in complete denial,” he said of Justice Department officials, whom he said may not have recognized how difficult such cases are to prosecute."[11]

Experts found the jury's inability to come to a definitive conclusion evidence of weakness in the government's ability to provide clear enough evidence against the charity. The LA Times reported that Georgetown University law professor David Cole said: "If the government can shut them down and then not convince a jury the group is guilty of any wrongdoing, then there is something wrong with the process".[13] "The whole case was based on assumptions that were based on suspicions," said juror Scroggins, who added: "If they had been a Christian or Jewish group, I don't think [prosecutors] would have brought charges against them."[13]

2008 retrial; convictions

The federal government began a retrial on August 18, 2008.

On November 24, 2008, the government obtained guilty verdicts against the Holy Land Foundation and five individual defendants in the retrial. Holy Land was found guilty of giving more than $12 million to support the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which the US designated as a terrorist organization in 1995, and made supporting the group illegal.

The jury found against the Holy Land Foundation on all 108 charges. The charges included conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, providing material support to a foreign terrorist, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

"Today's verdicts are important milestones in America's efforts against financiers of terrorism," Patrick Rowan, assistant attorney general for national security, said after the trial. "This prosecution demonstrates our resolve to ensure that humanitarian relief efforts are not used as a mechanism to disguise and enable support for terrorist groups."

The five convicted individuals were Ghassan Elashi, former CEO Shukri Abu-Baker, Mufid Abdulqader, Abdulrahman Odeh, and Mohammad El-Mezain.

check from Holy Land Foundation
to Council on American-Islamic Relations
  • Abu-Baker was sentenced to 65 years.
  • Elashi, also a member of the founding Board of Directors of the Texas branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), was sentenced to 65 years.
  • El-Mezain, former endowments director, received 15 years.

Because of the potential lengthy sentences for the criminal convictions, the individual defendants were remanded into custody without bail pending any appeal.[14]

Related groups

Elashi, HLF chairman, was also vice president of InfoCom Corporation of Richardson, Texas, indicted along with Hamas' Marzook.[15] InfoCom, an Internet company, shared personnel, office space, and board members with the HLF. The two organizations were formed in California around the same time, and both received seed money from Hamas leader Marzook.[16] InfoCom also maintained the web sites for HLF and IAP.[17]

Notes

  1. ^ a b (PDF) Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons. United States Department of the Treasury. 2008-11-20. http://www.ustreas.gov/offices/enforcement/ofac/sdn/t11sdn.pdf. Retrieved 2008-11-24.  
  2. ^ (PDF) 2005 EU list of banned individuals and groups. Official Journal of the European Union. 2005-12-23. http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/site/en/oj/2005/l_340/l_34020051223en00800084.pdf. Retrieved 2008-11-24.  
  3. ^ Agence France-PresseNovember 24, 2008
  4. ^ "Holy Land founders get life sentences." JTA. 28 May 2009. 28 May 2009.
  5. ^ President George W. Bush (2001-09-25) (PDF). Executive Order 13224. United States Department of the Treasury. http://www.treas.gov/offices/enforcement/ofac/legal/eo/13224.pdf. Retrieved 2008-11-24.  
  6. ^ President Bill Clinton (1995-01-25) (PDF). Executive Order 12947. United States Department of the Treasury. http://www.treas.gov/offices/enforcement/ofac/legal/eo/12947.pdf. Retrieved 2008-11-24.  
  7. ^ Additional Background Information on Charities Designated Under Executive Order 13224
  8. ^ Attorney General John Ashcroft (2004-07-27). Prepared Remarks re: Holy Land Foundation Indictment. United States Department of Justice. http://www.justice.gov/archive/ag/speeches/2004/72704ag.htm. Retrieved 2008-11-24.  
  9. ^ "Hamas victim's family get $156m". BBC. 2004-12-08. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/4080499.stm. Retrieved 2008-11-24.  
  10. ^ http://articles.latimes.com/2007/feb/25/nation/na-holyland25
  11. ^ a b Eaton, Leslie (2007-10-22). "No Convictions in Trial Against Muslim Charity". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/22/us/22cnd-holyland.htm. Retrieved 2008-11-24.  
  12. ^ Fechter, Michael (2007-12-10). "HLF JURY ROOM BULLYING". IPT News Service. http://www.investigativeproject.org/article/569.  
  13. ^ a b "Weak case seen in failed trial of charity; Muslim relief group was shut based on charges that ended in mistrial.", by Greg Krikorian, Los Angeles Times, November 4, 2007, page A22.
  14. ^ "Guilty Verdicts in Holy Land Foundation Retrial". CBS 11 / TXA 21 Dallas Fort-Worth (CBS 11 / TXA 21 Dallas Fort-Worth). 2008-11-24. http://cbs11tv.com/local/holy.land.retrial.2.872727.html. Retrieved 2008-11-24.  
  15. ^ United Stated Department of Justice (2002-12-18). "Senior Leader of Hamas and Texas Computer Company Indicted for Conspiracy to Violate U.S. Ban on Financial Dealings with Terrorists". Press release. http://www.usdoj.gov/opa/pr/2002/December/02_crm_734.htm. Retrieved 2008-11-24.  
  16. ^ Matthew A. Levitt (2002-08-01). Hearing on "The Role of Charities and NGOs in the Financing of Terrorist Activities.". Washington Institute for Near East Policy. http://banking.senate.gov/02_08hrg/080102/levitt.htm. Retrieved 2008-11-24.  
  17. ^ Fact Sheet on the Elashi Brothers and InfoCom. SITE Intelligence Group. 2002-12-18. http://siteintelgroup.org/bin/articles.cgi?ID=news1902&Category=news&Subcategory=0. Retrieved 2008-11-24.  

See also

External links


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