An Unexpected Guest
August 20, 2007
A visitor stopped by the Gaza office of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) in December 1999. It was Dallas Morning News reporter Steve McGonigle, who was reporting about alleged links between the Richardson, Tex.-based charity and Hamas, designated as a terrorist group by the U.S. government four years earlier.
McGonigle testified about that trip on Monday in the material support trial of the HLF and five of its officials. HLF officials did not know he was coming to Gaza, McGonigle said, and telephone calls between HLF officials in Gaza and Texas that prosecutors played seem to confirm that. McGonigle didn't realize it, but his unannounced visit created a bit of a stir.
McGonigle wanted to meet families helped by HLF charities. The men on the phone calls, including HLF Chief Executive Shukri Abu Bakr, agreed not to take him to families of prisoners or martyrs.
McGonigle had already interviewed two Hamas founders, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Mahmud al-Zahar, who told McGonigle they knew nothing about HLF. "I was skeptical of what [Yassin] was telling me," he testified.
Earlier, an outburst from defendant Ghassan Elashi triggered a warning from U.S. District Judge A. Joe Fish. Elashi began yelling loudly just after the court recessed for a morning break.
It wasn't clear what Elashi said, but it came as an Israeli government agent, testifying under the pseudonym "Avi" was being cross examined. Suddenly, Elashi began hollering angrily, first toward a defense attorney and then continuing as he was led out of the courtroom. Elashi is in custody, having already been convicted in 2005 of money laundering and dealing with a specially designated terrorist – Hamas political leader Mousa Abu Marzook, through his computer company called Infocom.
Later, Judge Fish said he was told Elashi's outburst happened as the jury was leaving the courtroom and the statements were to the effect that "this trial an extension of the Zionist conspiracy or something to that effect."
"We cannot have outbursts like that that could disrupt the trial," Fish said. While the rules of criminal procedure grant defendants the right to be present at trial, that right can be withdrawn if Elashi is disruptive. "Further outbursts like that will not be tolerated," Fish said. Elashi did not respond. To reinforce the point, Fish addressed him directly: "Mr. Elashi, I am looking at you. Do you understand what I just said?" Elashi appeared to acknowledge the court at that point.
During Avi's cross examination, defense attorneys introduced evidence showing the United States Agency for International Development gave money to the same zakat, or charity committees that prosecutors say are a part of Hamas' infrastructure.
When court resumes Tuesday, FBI agent Robert Miranda will testify about his role in the investigation. Miranda was the case agent in the Infocom investigation. In his brief testimony Monday afternoon, he described HLF fundraising efforts using speakers brought into the U.S. and even some who spoke to audiences here on conference calls. The activities mirror a part of the Hamas covenant, Miranda said, pointing to article 15:
The day that enemies usurp part of Moslem land, jihad becomes the individual duty of every Moslem. In face of the Jews' usurpation of Palestine, it is compulsory that the banner of jihad be raised To do this requires the diffusion of Islamic consciousness among the masses both on the regional, Arab and Islamic levels. It is necessary to instill the spirit of Jihad in the heart of the nation so that they would confront the enemies and join the ranks of the fighters.
It is necessary that scientists, educators and teachers information and media people as well as the educated masses, especially the youth and sheikhs of the Islamic movements, should take part in the operation of the awakening of the masses.