HLF Prosecution Offers Jurors a Guide to Evidence
October 21, 2008
DALLAS – The prosecution in the Hamas-support trial of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) schooled an attentive jury Tuesday on the significance of previously-admitted exhibits.
FBI Agent Lara Burns, who testified last month, returned to the stand, providing jurors with prepared "schedules" which assembled existing exhibits into easy-to-read grids. The grids listed individuals and Palestinian charities – or zakat committees – alleged to be under Hamas control with relevant corresponding exhibits. Federal prosecutor Barry Jonas questioned Burns about these "schedules," offering a story of how HLF connects to the zakat committees and to Hamas. Jonas focused on Hamas-linked committees to which HLF continued sending money after Hamas was designated as a terrorist group by the U.S. government.
The defendants are accused of conspiring to provide material support to Hamas. Prosecutors say as much as $12 million was sent from HLF to the terrorist group until the Treasury Department shut HLF down in December 2001. Defense attorneys say HLF donated money to charity for needy Palestinians.
Since the prosecution began presenting its case September 23, jurors have been introduced to dozens of characters and well over 100 exhibits featuring wiretaps, videotapes and internal documents, nearly all of which originally were in Arabic. Tuesday's review session seemed designed to help the jury put the evidence together.
In one video exhibit, dubbed the "tent video" by Jonas, Hamas leaders were interviewed in a tent in Lebanon where they were expelled by Israel in 1992. The Hamas leaders and other notable characters mentioned working with various zakat committees, including the Islamic Relief Committee, the Jenin Zakat Committee, the Islamic Charitable Society of Hebron and the Islamic Society of Gaza. The Hamas logo was displayed intermittently throughout the video and several Hamas leaders were interviewed. Burns explained how each committee mentioned in the video received money from HLF and pointed to domestic and foreign bank records, letters and other evidence seized by the FBI. Often these money transfers were authorized by defendants Shukri Abu Baker and Ghassan Elashi, Burns said.
Another exhibit, a letter to Baker, showed that Hamas was attempting to gain complete control over the zakat committees, Burns said. In the letter, each committee was listed along with an approximation of the percentage of the committee controlled by Hamas. For example, next to some committees, the list read "it is all ours." Next to the Ramallah Zakat Committee it read, "Ramallah Zakat Committee is ours."
A December 2001 memorandum from the Palestinian General Intelligence Service said members of the Ramallah Zakat committee "are associated with the Hamas Movement and some of them are activists in the Movement."
Other records indicated the committees aimed to do more than just charitable work. Jonas asked Burns about a 1992 letter from the Islamic Relief Committee asking for money for weapons to carry out jihad. Part of the letter, translated by the FBI from Arabic, read:
"Be with us and live with us. Do not rest, and do not twinkle until you care about us and provide us with what helps us of funds and weapons. Weapons, weapons, our brothers."
As reported Monday, documents taken from the Palestinian Authority that link the committees to Hamas has been admitted into evidence. In addition to the memo tying the Ramallah Zakat Committee to Hamas, another memorandum by Palestinian Security officials entitled "Who is Financing Hamas," reported that people in the United States provided as much as 10 percent of Hamas' funding "through donations and the sale of newspapers and Zakat funds."
The memo identified the Islamic Association for Palestine and "The Holy Land Fund" under the section for American financing for "Hamas Financial Resources Worldwide."
Omar Ahmad, a co-founder and current chairman-emeritus of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) also served as Islamic Association for Palestine president.
Burns' testimony is expected to continue Wednesday.
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