HLF Case Heavy on Detail
September 3, 2007
It is one line among thousands of pages of evidence in a Dallas courtroom, but it summarizes the government's terror-support case against the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) and five former leaders.
"Caution should be practiced not to reveal true identity."
It comes from an internal security manual found at Infocom, a computer business run by defendant Ghassan Elashi. Prosecutors say Elashi and his HLF colleagues deliberately funneled money to HAMAS, a designated foreign terrorist organization, consistent with the objectives of the Muslim Brotherhood's Palestine Committee. And, prosecutors claim, they did everything they could to keep that a secret.
Defendant Shukri Abu Baker, HLF's former chief executive, put it another way during a secret 1993 meeting of HAMAS members and sympathizers in Philadelphia: "War is deception."
Defense attorneys say the men and their non-profit organization merely sought to relieve the suffering of Palestinians living under occupation. They will present witnesses and evidence on that claim starting Tuesday after the prosecution rested its case Thursday.
Baker, Elashi, Mohammad El-Mezain, Mufid Abdulqader and Abdulraham Odeh are charged in a 42-count indictment with conspiracy and providing material support to HAMAS. The indictment includes 11 counts of providing material support through payments to zakat – or charity – committees that prosecutors say are HAMAS controlled, and 12 counts of dealing in the property of a specially designated terrorist.
To win convictions, jurors must be convinced the defendants knew the money would benefit the terrorist group. The case file contains numerous exhibits showing the defendants knew what HAMAS stands for and that they privately supported its bloody actions.
In transcripts of conversations monitored through Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants, Baker is heard plotting with HAMAS members on how to derail the 1993 Oslo peace accord and how to prevent people from discovering their plan. Those present at the meeting agreed not to mention HAMAS by name but call it "SAMAH," HAMAS spelled backward, instead.
In 2002, Baker mocked government emphasis on that simple code, saying it was meant to be ironic and witty. But other transcripts in evidence show him using the SAMAH reference several times, including a telephone call six years later. In that same 2002 declaration, submitted as part of a lawsuit challenging the U.S. designation of Holy Land as a terrorist front, Baker claimed to "reject and abhor HAMAS, its goals and its methods."
"That," FBI agent Robert Miranda testified, "is completely inconsistent" with the documents and tapes in evidence.
Among those tapes are telephone conversations among the defendants and videos showing HLF fundraising festivals (with songs, lectures and sermons), including one in which defendant Mohammad El Mezain is sandwiched between Mahmoud al Zahar, a HAMAS leader and Jamil Hamami, a top HAMAS official at the time of the video. In another, defendant Mufid Abdulqader plays a HAMAS activist in some skits, choking a Jew in one case and stabbing a soldier in another.
Jurors heard defendants El-Mezain and Odeh in January 1995 praising a "beautiful operation that just took place" that killed 18 people. Ironically, it was that attack that led President Clinton to sign the executive order banning transactions with terrorist organizations that threaten the peace process. Jurors heard the same two in a call less than a year later grieving the death of HAMAS bomb-making guru Yehiya Ayyash. Odeh then provides financial support to Ayyash's his family through HLF.
Jurors also will have thousands of pages of financial records to sift through showing money flowing from the Richardson, Tex.-based HLF to zakat committees in the West Bank and Gaza.
"Zakat committees are HAMAS' most effective tool," testified Matt Levitt, a senior fellow and director of the Washington Institute's Stein Program on Terrorism, Intelligence, and Policy. "They build grassroots support for the organization."
That message was reinforced in testimony from two Israeli security agents and the FBI's two main case agents, Lara Burns and Robert Miranda.
Israeli security agent, "Avi" testified that HAMAS leaders credited their recent election victory in part to its charity/social branch. The social wing is involved in education, health care, supporting special segments of the population: martyrs, prisoners.
Many orphan records were found at one zakat committee with the reason of death for the father listed as martyrdom.
A 1991 letter found in the home of unindicted co-conspirator Ismail Elbarasse to Baker spoke of the zakat committees and their connections. For example, the "Qalqilia Zakat Co." is described this way: "all of it is ours and it is guaranteed."
Other exhibits show the close financial ties between the Holy Land Foundation (HLF) and HAMAS leader Musa Abu Marzook.
Travel records showing HLF paid HAMAS-linked speakers to come to US and South America on fundraising tours, including Mohammed Siyam, described in testimony as a roving HAMAS ambassador. El-Mezain and Baker paid his travel to the U.S., Colombia and Brazil for fundraisers in 1992 and 1993, records show. HLF also included Siyam on a February 1996 fundraising call that raised $18,500 for HLF.
Siyam's role as a HAMAS leader appears to have been known among Islamist organizations in the U.S. since at least 1990. He was listed as a confirmed speaker for an Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) conference in New York in July 1990. ICNA identified him as "Islamic scholar and head of Intifadah, Hamas Movement in Palestine."
Another of the HLF overseas speakers was Abdul Khaleq al-Natshe, director of the Islamic Charitable Society of Hebron, a zakat committee that frequently received HLF money.
Israeli officials seized what appear to be minutes of a HAMAS meeting from al-Natshe's office. Prosecutors say it discusses jihad through charity. It included a prayer "to have mercy on our martyrs, to heal our wounded and to release our detainees…"
Later, it stressed that efforts were "underway to provide money to aspects relating to the martyrs and the detainees and other issues through what is being transferred through the charity organizations…"
Defense attorneys are now expected to emphasize the charitable contributions HLF made to people with no HAMAS connection. They also have pointed out instances in which "martyrs" included Palestinians whose death was not related to terrorism.