DALLAS - Like any new homeowner, Marcial Peredo had some ideas on landscaping his new house in Falls Church, Va. And, like a lot of homeowners, he hired a crew to do the heavier work.
That home improvement project became an issue Wednesday in the Hamas-support trial of five former officials of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF). Workers working in a corner of his property with a Bobcat tractor unearthed some black tapes, Peredo said. He collected nearly three dozen in all, tossing them in a trash bag.
"I was going to throw them out," Peredo testified. "I was speaking to my neighbors and heard the house [had been] under surveillance."
Peredo bought the house from a man named Fawaz Mushtaha, an unindicted co-conspirator in the HLF case, identified by prosecutors as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood's Palestine Committee in America. He didn't know that, but after hearing the house was being watched, Peredo said he pulled the bag out of the garbage can and "decided to call a friend of mine in Homeland Security to ask what I should do."
He took two tapes to his friend and then heard from FBI agents a few weeks later. They took the rest of the videos as well as finding some more. Agents also seized things from old grill on the property, including "cases, a burnt cell phone, a packet of half burnt maps and money," Peredo said.
Defense attorneys had no questions for Peredo.
Jurors were not shown any of the tapes Wednesday. But, based upon evidence entered during last year's original trial, they will see a series of rallies in support of Hamas, including one with defendant Mufid Abdulqader saying:
"I am Hamas, O dear ones. In midst of fire, they throw me. And I am Hamas, O dear ones. In midst of fire, they throw me. I swear to wipe out the name of the Zionist. And protect my land, Palestine. And you must get out." (Click here for the government translation.)
At about the 6:28 mark of the video, Abdulqader pretends to shoot another actor playing an Israeli soldier.
The skit was performed at a rally by the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP) commemorating the Palestinian intifada, or uprising, of the 1980s. It shows the defendants were aware of Hamas' violence and shared its stated objective of removing Jews from Palestine by force.
Other evidence will establish the IAP's role working with HLF on the Palestine Committee, an effort prosecutors say was created by the Muslim Brotherhood to promote the Hamas agenda in the U.S.
A mistrial was declared last October after jurors could not reach unanimous verdicts on a majority of counts. Mohamed El-Mezain was acquitted on all counts against him, except for the sweeping conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists.
An Arabic translator working for the FBI also testified Wednesday. Before showing the videotaped evidence and their translations to jurors, prosecutors prosecution had the witness explain how the work was done to ensure accuracy and how, in wire-tapped conversations, different speakers were identified.
Jurors also heard from Paul Matulic, a staff member on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Matulic testified about a letter his office received in 1995, when he was an aide to then-Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). U.S. officials had arrested Mousa Abu Marzook, a Hamas political leader, pursuant to an extradition request from Israel.
The letter came from Hamas spokesman Ibrahim Ghoushe and contained language Matulic considered threatening:
"The continued detention or the handing over of Dr. Abu Marzuq to the Israelis will provoke a wave of outrage against the United States in various parts of the Arab and Muslims (sic) world," Ghoushe wrote. "Serious repercussions could ensue as a result."
Hamas' threat of "serious repercussions" could be a sign that the group would consider expanding its target base beyond Israelis. It builds on a point asked of expert witness Matthew Levitt before concluding his testimony Wednesday morning. In a twist on the argument that one person's terrorist is another person's freedom fighter, Levitt was asked if he would compare Hamas to the leaders of the American Revolution.
"No," Levitt said chuckling, "I do not. It's an entirely different circumstance."
As the Investigative Project on Terrorism reported following the mistrial, juror William Neal, who reportedly dominated the jury deliberations, embraced that faulty analogy:
"Our country was founded on a terrorist act. The Boston Tea Party wasn't a tea party, dude. It was a rebellion against the king's wrath. They fought back against an oppressive government."
Finally, responding to defense attorneys' emphasis on Levitt's use of Israeli sources for his research into Hamas, including his 2006 book Hamas: Politics, Charity and Terrorism in the Service of Jihad, Levitt was asked why that was.
There are more Israeli sources on Hamas simply because "they are targeting Israel," Levitt said. "That doesn't mean you should use only Israeli information."FBI translator Atef Shafik is expected to return to the witness stand when the trial resumes Thursday morning.