Hamas Deputy Chief Settled U.S. Funding Dispute
September 30, 2008
DALLAS – A turf war between competing U.S.-based Palestinian charities in 1994 was settled by Mousa Abu Marzook, a Hamas leader who serves as its deputy political director.
In testimony Tuesday, jurors in the Hamas-support trial of five former officials at the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) heard FBI recordings showing Marzook sided with the foundation over an Oxford, Mississippi-based educational fund. HLF, prosecutors say, then became the designated fundraising arm for Hamas in the United States.
The first attempt to settle the dispute between the Texas-based HLF and the Al Aqsa Education Fund first was handled by the Palestine Committee, a group created by the Muslim Brotherhood in the U.S. to help Hamas. It included HLF, the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP) and a think tank called the United Association for Studies and Research (UASR). Marzook had personal and financial ties with all three entities.
But Abdelhaleem Ashqar felt that HLF wasn't sending enough money to help the cause and arranged for Sheik Jamil Hamami, then a Hamas leader, to come to the U.S. in 1993 for fundraisers. HLF balked. Ashqar had an organization called the Al Aqsa Education Fund that was organizing Hamami's visit.
Defendant Shukri Abu Baker, HLF's former executive director, argued that letting Ashqar go unchecked in fundraising would set a precedent that could cripple HLF:
"Everyone who has an organization was calling us and, 'We want to come to your end. We want you to do a program for us. I want to raise money for our organization'. Thus, the Foundation would turn into an agency and a mere station through which people come here, raise money and go back home."
Hamas official Mohammed Siam told Ashqar that the Palestine Committee discussed the issue in a February 1994 meeting:
"Sheik Jamil's program will continue as planned previously by A1 Aqsa Fund, but under the supervision of the Holy Land Fund, HLF, whereby collected donations will be forwarded to the HLF, Spending these funds will be decided between the HLF and Sheik Jamil."
Ashqar resisted, drawing a visit from Siam and Hamami. FBI agents learned of the meeting and recorded it. The men brought a letter from Marzook with instructions for Ashqar to back off:
"My honorable brother, I hope that you suspend your activity until I arrive in America and work on solving the disagreement. Sheik Jamil is to join the program of your brothers and I have written to him accordingly."
Ashqar is serving an 11-year prison sentence for contempt and obstruction of justice after refusing to testify before grand juries investigating his Hamas ties.
Baker participates in all the calls concerning the financial dispute. In addition to showing how the quarrel cemented HLF's ties to Hamas, prosecutors used the exhibits to show how Baker was dishonest in public statements about his relationship with Hamas and Marzook. In 2003, he provided a sworn declaration in civil litigation in which he claimed neither he, nor anyone in HLF "have had any connection whatever to Hamas, or to any terrorist groups or to terrorism."
"Did he say Marzook intervened in dispute between HLF and the Al Aqsa Education fund?" asked federal prosecutor Barry Jonas. "No, he did not," answered FBI Agent Lara Burns.
The transcripts also showed the powerful role Omar Ahmad played on the Palestine Committee. Ahmad, a founder and chairman emeritus of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), convened the group's 1993 meeting in Philadelphia explored in detail Monday.
Four months later, Ahmad called for another meeting of Committee members to try to resolve tension between HLF and Ashqar. In another call, Ahmad and Baker discuss how much to pay defendant Mohamed El-Mezain, who was moving to San Diego to open an HLF branch. Ahmad was not an HLF officer and had no formal relationship to the foundation. He was an officer in the IAP, a branch of the Palestine Committee, yet he was suggesting payment amounts for an HLF official.
This shows Ahmad is "a leader of the Palestinian committee," Burns said.
While prosecutors jumped around Monday, cutting to the most incriminating portions of the Philadelphia meeting, Tuesday's presentation featured complete conversations, including the Mississippi meeting with Ashqar and the two Hamas officials and the calls concerning the financial dispute.
Jurors saw most of a 1990 rally organized by HLF and attended by two Hamas leaders. Defendant Mohamed El-Mezain is shown sitting with Mahmoud al-Zahar and Sheik Jamil Hamami and, at the end of the program, Baker thanks them for being there.
Zahar is a Hamas co-founder who was foreign minister to deposed Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.
The rally featured musical performances by a band featuring defendant Mufid Abdelqader, including songs praising Muslim Brotherhood founder Hasan Al-Banna, Hamas spiritual leader Ahmad Yasin and other radical leaders.
Jurors were shown the skit in which Abdelqader plays a Hamas member who kills an Israeli after saying "I am Hamas, O dear ones," and telling the Israeli character: "And you must leave." The audience responds "O cursed one."
Baker then closes out the night by thanking the guests. After seeing all the Hamas imagery and praise, Jonas returned Burns' attention to Baker's 2003 declaration. On page 2, he wrote that "I reject and abhor Hamas, its goals and its methods."
Court is in recess until Thursday. Direct examination of Agent Burns is expected to continue then.