Counterterrorism Blog Expert, Matthew Levitt, Takes the Stand in Dallas HAMAS Trial
July 25, 2007
This afternoon, government expert Dr. Matthew Levitt, a senior fellow and director of the Washington Institute's Stein Program on Terrorism, Intelligence, and Policy, and Counterterrorism Blog contributor,continued his testimony. During his direct examination Wednesday afternoon, jurors were shown a videotape from a HAMAS graduation ceremony in the Gaza Strip. Children were dressed in army fatigues holding toy weapons and, in some cases, wearing suicide belts. Several of the children were dressed as well known figures including Sheikh Yassin, a founder and spiritual leader of HAMAS.
Prosecutors used the video to show how HAMAS indoctrinates its followers at the youngest ages. Levitt referred to the ceremony as "typical of HAMAS run schools."
Levitt, the prosecution's first witness, testified as a HAMAS expert about the group's methods of recruitment and their violent attacks. In contrast to descriptions by defense attorneys in Tuesday's opening statements, where the first Intifadah was described as occasional rock throwing by children, Levitt explained to jurors that "HAMAS' role in the first Intifadah was much more violent then rock throwing." "They were involved in shooting attacks," he said.
Levitt also spent considerable time discussing the charitable Zakat Committees. He called them "HAMAS' most effective tool… they build grassroots support for the organization…(and) provide a logistical support mechanism to the terrorism wing by providing day jobs to HAMAS terrorists."
In her cross examination, Nancy Hollander, defense attorney for Shukri Abu Baker, focused on Levitt's employment with the Washington Institute, which was founded by Martin Indyk, as a way of questioning his objectivity. Indyk previously served as U.S. Ambassador to Israel. Hollander also asked Levitt a series of questions about his relationship with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Jewish Federation, both of which have hosted Levitt as a speaker
Earlier that day, prosecutors in the terror-support trial against the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) had opened their case Wednesday morning by calling Dr. Levitt, an expert witness to explain HAMAS structure to jurors and detail its operations in the United States.
Levitt walked jurors through HAMAS history, explaining how it broke off from the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and rose to power in the Palestinian Authority in January 2006.
HLF and seven of its top officials are charged with channeling material support to the Palestinian terrorist group. Five of those officials are on trial in a Dallas courtroom while two others live abroad and are considered fugitives.
Levitt previously served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis at the US Department of Treasury and as a Counterterrorism Intelligence Analyst for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. His latest book "HAMAS: Politics, Charity, and Terrorism in the Service of Jihad," directly speaks to the charges facing HLF. He has testified in other criminal trials in the United States including US v Marzook et al in Chicago and US v Al-Arian et al in Tampa.
His morning testimony focused on delineating HAMAS' origins, and beliefs as spelled out in the group's charter and identifying some of its key players. "Hamas seeks to establish an Islamic Palestinian state in all of Israel, Gaza and the West Bank," he said.
The Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist organization with representation throughout the world, "is very active in the United States," Levitt said. It is represented in the United States as the Muslim American Society (MAS) which was founded in 1993 in Illinois and maintains branch offices throughout the United States in at least 27 cities.
In an extensive Chicago Tribune story on the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in the U.S [free registration required], the origins are described:
...the U.S. Brotherhood operated under the name Muslim American Society, according to documents and interviews. One of the nation's major Islamic groups, it was incorporated in Illinois in 1993 after a contentious debate among Brotherhood members. Some wanted the Brotherhood to remain underground, while others thought a more public face would make the group more influential… When the leaders voted, it was decided that
Brotherhood members would call themselves the Muslim American Society, or MAS,
according to documents and interviews. An undated internal memo instructed MAS
leaders on how to deal with inquiries about the new organization. If asked, "Are you the
Muslim Brothers?" leaders should respond that they are an independent group called the
Muslim American Society. "It is a self-explanatory name that does not need further
explanation. And if the topic of terrorism were raised, leaders were told to say that they
were against terrorism but that jihad was among a Muslim's ‘divine legal rights' to be used
to defend himself and his people and to spread Islam.
It should also be noted that the 1993 Articles of Incorporation for MAS, states that "Upon dissolution of the Society, and after paying or making provisions for payment of all liabilities of the Society, and in furtherance of the purposes of the Society, all assets should be distributed to the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT), a non-for-profit, charitable, and religious federally tax exempt organization under section 503 (c) (3)..."
NAIT was named by the HLF prosecutors as a Muslim Brotherhood group and as an un-indicted co-conspirator in the case.
Tuesday, representatives of the MAS Dallas chapter protested outside of the Earle Cabell Courthouse against the trial, which they dub a witch hunt brought on by post-September 11 Islamophobia. Mahdi Bray, the Executive Director of the MAS Freedom Foundation, headquartered in Washington DC, flew to Dallas for a press conference which took place during the lunch break. During the trial proceedings yesterday, Bray sat in the courtroom with family and friends of the defendants.
The Government's questioning of Dr. Levitt will continue this afternoon.