HLF Prosecutor: Think Like a Terrorist Organization
September 22, 2008
DALLAS – Jurors in the re-trial of the five officials at the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development need to "think like a terrorist organization," a federal prosecutor said in opening statements Monday morning.
The foundation and five former officials are accused of illegally routing more than $12 million to Hamas, in violation of U.S. laws prohibiting support for the designated terrorist group. A mistrial was declared last October after jurors in the first trial could not reach unanimous verdicts.
In her opening statement, federal prosecutor Elizabeth Shapiro seemed to apply some lessons from the first trial. Her statement took less than an hour to deliver and appeared to be an attempt to offer a general overview of the case. It's a big case, she said, but it doesn't have to be difficult.
"Money," Shapiro said, "is the lifeblood of terror organizations."
In this case, HLF is accused of funneling its money through a series of charities – or zakat committees – in the West Bank and Gaza. Sending any kind of support to Hamas became illegal in 1995, she said. She correctly anticipated a defense argument – that while the United States government designated Hamas a terrorist entity, the government did nothing about the zakat committees.
That doesn't matter, Shapiro said. The law prohibits giving money to Hamas, even if the stated purpose is charitable. The evidence will show how Hamas works, she said, where money raised by HLF really went, and that the defendants knew where it was going even after Hamas was designated as a terrorist organization.
Shapiro's remarks came after U.S. District Judge Jorge A. Solis swore in the jurors and gave them instructions about the trial. Prosecutors then read the full indictment aloud.
Jurors looked alert and attentive as prosecutors started reading. But by the time they got to Count 32 - a lengthy list of financial transactions - several members of the jury appeared to be restless and fidgety.
Even with the Aug. 29 decision to drop 29 counts each against defendants Mufid Abdulqader and Abdelrahman Odeh, the government's case is expected to take six weeks to present. That includes a mountain of translated telephone call intercepts, faxes and other internal documents along with bank records showing some of the flow of money.
Shapiro urged jurors to take notes during the trial. She summarized some of the evidence they should expect to hear during the next six weeks, including Odeh referring to a suicide bombing as a "beautiful operation," and tapes from a 1993 meeting of Hamas members and supporters in Philadelphia called in the wake of the Oslo Peace Accords. The group gathered to discuss ways to derail the peace effort, which it saw as marginalizing the Islamist Hamas movement and paving the way for a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians. Shapiro told jurors to look out for the line "War is deception." (Editor's note: see page 13 of the document)
HLF executive director Shukri Abu Baker made those remarks, the transcript shows. The group was discussing the challenge of opposing the peace talks without being cast as terrorists or terrorist supporters. Joining Baker at the meeting was Nihad Awad and Omar Ahmed. At the time, the pair led the Islamic Association for Palestine, a group which functioned as a propaganda arm for Hamas in the United States. The following year, they founded the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR).
Prosecutors included CAIR as an unindicted co-conspirator in the HLF case, pointing to internal Muslim Brotherhood documents placing CAIR on a "Palestine Committee" created to advance the Hamas agenda in the U.S.
"Remember the words 'war is deception,'" Shapiro said, "and think what would a terrorist organization do to hide?"
In their openings, defense attorneys argued the money was intended to help Palestinians living in dire circumstances. HLF tried to adjust to the new law and comply, they said.
They insist the First Amendment is the framework for this case, that their clients are simply in the charity business, and have no connection to Hamas.
Jurors should look at "intent" while reviewing the evidence, defense attorney Linda Moreno said.
By 3 p.m. the first witness took the stand. Matthew Levitt, a former deputy assistant secretary for intelligence and analysis at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, explained Hamas' evolution in the West Bank and Gaza. Levitt will be back on the stand when testimony resumes Tuesday morning.