DALLAS – Internal records detailing fund raising hauls by the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) indicate that the group took in hundreds of thousands of dollars more than it reported on tax forms, an FBI agent testified Wednesday.
An HLF ledger shows $396,000 was collected at various fundraisers in 1990, Agent Robert Miranda testified. But HLF's tax returns reported only $88,490 that year. Entries on the ledger indicate Hamas leaders routinely were part of the fundraisers. In a comment section next to the donation totals, numerous entries note that the Hamas guest speakers "took it." Other notations indicate defendant Mohamed El-Mezain also "took it."
El Mezain, a former HLF chairman, is among five men on trial, accused of conspiring to provide material support to Hamas. Prosecutors say HLF illegally channeled more than $12 million to the Palestinian terrorist group through donations to a series of charities, or zakat committees.
Miranda's testimony marked at least the second example in which tens of thousands of dollars in HLF funds go unaccounted for. Last week, FBI agent Lara Burns described two separate HLF donations of $100,000 to an Islamic center but accompanying paperwork accounted for only $20,000 in each case, she said.
Miranda's testimony included a review of a 1990 letter and ledger from the Islamic Association of Palestine (IAP), a charity that teamed with HLF on fundraisers. As the letter indicates on page 7 of the link, the IAP received a 10 percent cut of HLF's collections. The letter was addressed to the Occupied Land Fund (HLF's name at the time) and details money raised from recent events co-sponsored by two groups. It is signed by "Y. Salah," identified by Miranda as Yusuf Salah (a/k/a Ahmed Yusuf), President of United Association for Studies and Research (UASR), an organization that was part of a Palestine Committee created by the Muslim Brotherhood to advance Hamas' agenda in the United States. The IAP and HLF also were Palestine Committee members.
In addition, Ahmed Yusuf was listed separately as member of the Palestine Committee in the U.S. He now works in Gaza as a spokesman for deposed Hamas Prime Minister Ismail al-Haniyeh.
The 1990 IAP letter builds on Miranda's testimony Tuesday, which described the "means and manner" HLF used to raise money. The group organized conference calls featuring prominent Hamas leaders that were marketed to major mosques and Islamic centers, Miranda said. Some of these conference calls were picked up by FBI wiretaps. That surveillance also picked up a fax on HLF letterhead advertising one such conference call in January 1997.
But the English version of the advertisement differed significantly from the Arabic one, Miranda said. The speakers listed in English were: Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) President Dr. Abdullah Idris and Dr. Kamal al Hilbawi - described in the advertisement as a well known Islamic scholar. The Arabic version listed Hilbawi and two men Miranda identified as senior Hamas leaders - Hamid al Bitawi and Sheikh Mohamed Siam.
ISNA is an unindicted co-conspirator in the case.
Jurors then listened to the conference call itself, featuring prominent Hamas leaders two years after the group was designated as a terrorist organization by the United States. A speaker introduced the call by saying "Holy Land Foundation welcomes the honorable guests." Later, senior Hamas leader Mohamed Siam paid tribute to three prominent Hamas figures at the time: spiritual leader Ahmed Yassin; deputy political chief Mousa Abu Marzook; and bomb-maker Yehia Ayyash (also known as "The Engineer"). The three are "shining examples" of Palestinian "power and steadfastness," Siam said.
He also encouraged support for "Islamic movements," a reference to the Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas. Repeated references to HLF are made throughout the conference call, which concluded with a final solicitation to donate to HLF.
After the tape was played, federal prosecutor James Jacks asked Miranda: "Have you seen any reference to charity in the call?"
"You have to be creative to find it," Miranda replied.
Another conference call from February 1996 featured a leader of Jamaat-e-Islami, a radical Islamist party in Pakistan tied to the Muslim Brotherhood. Qazi Hussein Ahmad told the audience in that call that the British colonizers of Palestine "artificially planted" the state of Israel in the Middle East and that "we in Pakistan stand with the Palestinian people" and "stand with Hamas" and we "will never recognize Israel."
Jurors were shown a video found buried in the backyard of unindicted co-conspirator Fawaz Mushtaha The 1999 video features senior Hamas leaders Mohamed Siam, Jamil Hamami, and Mahmud Zahar. Defendant Mufid Abdelqader, a half-brother of Hamas chief Khalid Mishaal and a singer in the Al-Sakrah band that performed at HLF conferences, is seen in the video embracing and welcoming the Hamas leaders. The video depicts singing, lectures, and sermons in praise of Hamas spiritual leader Ahmed Yassin, the military wing of Hamas (Izz ad-Din al Qassam Brigades), and Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
Miranda also discussed a 2003 deposition given by defendant Mohamed El Mezain, in which he was asked whether he knew Nihad Awad. El Mezain was vague: He said he knew Awad from Awad's work with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and had met him at conferences. He mentioned he met Awad at an ISNA conference in Chicago. Asked whether he had "any personal dealings" with Awad, El Mezain said no. Awad, who currently serves as CAIR's executive director, was an IAP officer and was listed with El Mezain as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood's Palestine Committee in the U.S.
El-Mezain similarly minimized his relationship with Yasser Bushnaq, President of IAP; Yusuf Salah (a/k/a Ahmed Yusuf), President of UASR; and Marzook, a specially designated Hamas terrorist. He declined having "any personal dealings" with the individuals even though they were key members in the Palestine Committee.
Last week, Agent Burns made similar observations concerning sworn statements given by former HLF executive director Shukri Abu Baker. Prosecutors have emphasized the defendants' stated tactic of deceiving people about their activities and objectives.
The trial is in recess until Tuesday, when Miranda's testimony is expected to continue.