DALLAS – After two days of background, prosecutors in the Hamas-support trial against five former officials at the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) got to the heart of their case Thursday, presenting evidence that the charity was the fundraising arm of a vast Muslim Brotherhood plan to help Hamas and to infiltrate the United States.
In doing so, they showed how two active national organizations, the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and its parent, the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT) were both tied to the Muslim Brotherhood and to HLF.
The Brotherhood is an 80-year-old Egyptian religious and political movement that seeks to instill Sharia, or Islamic law, as the controlling basis for society throughout the world.
In court papers filed in July, prosecutors spelled out ISNA's and NAIT's connections to the case:
"During the early years of the HLF's operations HLF raised money and supported HAMAS through a bank account it held with ISNA and NAIT," prosecutors wrote earlier this summer. "ISNA checks deposited into the ISNA/NAIT account for the HLF were often made payable to "the Palestinian Mujahideen," the original name for the HAMAS military wing. From that ISNA/NAIT account, the HLF sent hundreds of thousands of dollars to HAMAS leader Mousa Abu Marzook; Nadia Elashi (defendant Ghassan Elashi's cousin and Marzook's wife), Sheikh Ahmed Yassin's Islamic Center of Gaza, the Islamic University, and a number of other individuals associated with HAMAS."
In court Thursday, FBI Agent Lara Burns pointed to translated bank records showing a letter written in Arabic requesting payments to defendant Ghassan Elashi and Shukri Abu Baker.
ISNA and NAIT have petitioned the court to have their names removed from a list of unindicted co-conspirators in the case. Prosecutors pointed to those bank records and other exhibits in justifying the designation. The original petition was filed in June but U.S. District Judge Jorge A. Solis has not ruled on the request.
Burns also explained that HLF was part of an alliance of Brotherhood-connected groups in America, called the Palestine Committee, which was created to advance the Hamas agenda in the United States. On page 6 of the committee's original bylaws, the Brotherhood's roots are made clear.
"The Palestine Committee is a specialized committee emanating from the Palestine Section which was formed by the executive office of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Levant countries."
Burns reviewed a chilling internal memorandum from 1991 outlining the committee's ultimate agenda:
"The process of settlement is a "Civilization-Jihadist Process" with all the word means. The Ikhwan must understand that their work in America is a kind of grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and "sabotaging" its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God's religion is made victorious over all other religions. Without this level of understanding, we are not up to this challenge and have not prepared ourselves for Jihad yet. It is a Muslim's destiny to perform Jihad and work wherever he is and wherever he lands until the final hour comes, and there is no escape from that destiny except for those who chose to slack."
Jurors also learned about a lecture by Zeid Noman, who was introduced as an official in the Brotherhood's executive office in America. Noman is listed in the personal phone books of both convicted Palestinian Islamic Jihad supporter Sami Al-Arian and Hamas deputy political bureau chief Mousa Abu Marzook. The speech isn't dated, but is believed to date back into the early 1980s. In it, Noman gives a history of the Brotherhood, describing its roots in the Muslim Students Association (MSA) and the establishment of other front organizations.
"A front is not formed until after a study and after an exhaustive study. I mean, the last front formed by the Group is the Islamic Association for Palestine. So, Ikhwans [Brothers], this did not come out over night or it was not like the Ikhwans who are in charge went to sleep, dreamed about it and met the next day and decided to do it. Not at all, by God. This went through lengthy meetings and took long discussions."
Noman was asked about a reference to "securing the group" and whether that meant military training. It didn't, he said, explaining that it referred to "outside dangers. For instance, to monitor the suspicious movements on the...., which exist on the American front such as Zionism, Masonry .... etc. Monitoring the suspicious movements or the sides, the government bodies such as the CIA, FBI. ..etc, so that we find out if they are monitoring us, are we not being monitored, how can we get rid of them. That's what is meant by ‘Securing the Group.'"
Federal prosecutor Barry Jonas and Burns then showed the jury videotapes of HLF officials at rallies and other events.
Those tapes show the defendants' stated support for Hamas. Prosecutors say HLF was used to illegally funnel more than $12 million to the terrorist group through a series of Palestinian charities, known as zakat committees. Defense attorneys argue that the HLF was a charity seeking to help needy Palestinian women and children.
All of this evidence was used last year, when jurors were unable to reach unanimous verdicts on most of the counts against the five defendants. Mohamed El-Mezain was acquitted on all counts against him except for a conspiracy to provide material support to Hamas. Prosecutors, seeking to streamline their case, then dropped 29 counts each against defendants Mufid Abdulqader and Abdelrahman Odeh, preserving four conspiracy counts for the retrial.
Some observers wondered whether the original case offered too much information for jurors to absorb and whether the volume overwhelmed some of them. Thursday, Jonas made a point of stopping the video tapes several times to ask Burns to specify the connection between the people seen on tape and the defendants.
In one instance, the tape showed Fawaz Mushtaha, a band mate of defendant Abdulqader. It was in Mushtaha's former back yard that agents found dozens of videotapes after the new owner unearthed them during a landscaping project. At another point, Jonas asked about another person on the screen: "The Hamas leader of Gaza" Burns said.
Jonas stopped again a few minutes later.
"That is Jamil Hamami, leader of West Bank," Burns said.
That emphasis seemed more pronounced than in the original trial.
And, in a moment of levity, Jonas asked Burns about the volume of evidence seized in a series of search warrants at HLF, a related office and at the homes of the defendants and other co-conspirators. In all, Jonas asked, how many videotapes were seized?
"Thousands," Burns said.
"Are we going to show thousands?" Jonas asked.
"No," Burns said. "We've isolated parts that were relevant in an effort to cut down on the time y'all spend here."
The trial resumes Monday.