Prosecutors have secured their seventh conviction in the Hamas-financing case against the defunct Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF).
On Wednesday, 54-year-old Akram Abdallah pled guilty to lying to federal agents about his HLF involvement during interviews in 2007. According to his indictment, Abdallah told FBI agents he had nothing to do with HLF, when, in fact, "between approximately 1994 and 1997, defendant was involved in fund raising activities" in the Phoenix area.
Abdallah faces up to eight years in prison when he is sentenced in August.
In November, five former HLF officials were convicted on 108 counts related to illegal Hamas financing. Jurors agreed that HLF routed more than $12 million to Hamas through a series of charities, or zakat committees, after U.S. law made such support illegal.
They are scheduled to be sentenced May 27 in Dallas and face sentences ranging from 15 years to life in prison. In 2006, a Georgia imam named Mohamed Shorbagi pled guilty to providing material support to a terrorist organization. Shorbagi agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in hopes of reducing his prison sentence and testified at the HLF trial last fall. He told jurors he knew money given to HLF would make its way to Hamas.
"It is important that the public cooperate in investigations involving national security," Diane J. Humetewa, United States Attorney for the District of Arizona, said in a statement about Abdallah's plea. "We will aggressively prosecute anyone who lies about investigations relating to international terrorism or its financing."
Providing support to Hamas became illegal in 1995, in the middle of the period Abdallah participated in a number of HLF fund raising activities, the statement said. He collected donations and helped set up HLF events around Phoenix.
Abdallah's plea agreement indicates he was interviewed by law enforcement as agents prepared for the original 2007 trial of the HLF defendants. That ended in a mistrial when jurors were unable to reach unanimous verdicts on most counts.
"At the time of my interviews, I knew the HLF was a Specially Designated Terrorist Organization. I also knew that when I was interviewed, the HLF and its officers were pending trial in the Northern District of Texas for crimes including providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization," the plea agreement states.
The HLF prosecution had broader effects in addition to the convictions that continue to be felt. Last summer, FBI officials decided to impose a freeze on communication with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which touts itself as the country's premiere Muslim civil rights organization. Internal documents and government recordings show two CAIR founders were part of a secret Hamas-support network in the U.S.
As the Investigative Project on Terrorism reported Thursday, an FBI official responded last week to a letter from three U.S. senators, explaining "the FBI does not view CAIR as an appropriate liaison partner" because of its founders' connections to a U.S.-based Hamas support network. Until the Bureau "can resolve whether there continues to be a connection between CAIR or its executives and Hamas," the ban on communications is likely to stay in place, wrote Richard C. Powers, an assistant director in the FBI's office of Congressional Affairs.
Internal records entered into evidence at the HLF trial in Dallas show CAIR and two of its founders were part of a coalition called the Palestine Committee, which was created by the Muslim Brotherhood to build financial and political support for Hamas. CAIR co-founders Omar Ahmad and Nihad Awad are listed on a phone list of committee members. In addition, the two participated in a secret 1993 gathering of Hamas members and supporters to discuss ways to "derail" U.S.-brokered peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians that created the Palestinian Authority.
Part of the discussion also focused on the need to create a new political organization to advance the group's cause. CAIR was born the following summer and was listed on a Palestine Committee agenda alongside other groups that had been part of the committee since its inception.