Congressional plans to outlaw material support for designated terrorist groups and their leaders in 1996 caused a stir for leaders of the Texas-based Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF), evidence released Wednesday shows.
The foundation and five of its officials are on trial for violating that law, as they stand accused of providing material support to Hamas. In a telephone call intercepted by FBI agents under a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant, HLF founder Shukri Abu Baker discusses the legislation with HLF officer and fellow defendant Ghassan Elashi and an associate named Thomas Mohamed. "Up to this point," Baker said, "the law differentiates between…for example the charitable and let's say military wings of any organization…But after this passes, it will be the same. It doesn't matter if you're supporting charitable. It's the same as long as that organization is named a terrorist organization."
The defense insists it raised money solely to feed and care for needy Palestinian families and did not work in league with Hamas. The media, Baker said in the 1996 call, "is going out of its way to establish a link…between the Holy Land Foundation and, and, and other organizations. So this is not for nonsense. There is a purpose." The media, in this case, is the Dallas Morning News and IPT Executive Director Steven Emerson. Morning News reporter Gayle Reaves had interviewed Baker two weeks earlier.
Other evidence released in the trial shows HLF repeatedly turned to Hamas members and affiliates for fundraisers. Its officials attended a secret 1993 meeting of Hamas members and sympathizers in Philadelphia to discuss ways to derail the new Oslo Peace Accords. And documents seized from HLF offices and other defendants show HLF and other U.S.-based Muslim groups were part of the Muslim Brotherhood's Palestine Committee. Hamas is a Brotherhood offshoot.
But Baker and his HLF associates weren't going to tell Reaves that. Baker briefed El-Mezain about Reaves' questions in a call two days after her interview. They agreed that El-Mezain wouldn't talk to Reaves:
"Tell her, ‘I called him and he is not scared of you,'" El-Mezain instructed, "‘but he has no time to see you.'"
Something else El-Mezain said in that call is revealing: "Tell her…I mean, regarding donations to Hamas at the time were not illegal. Also, in truth, they are an honor to the entire Palestinian people in the first place."
Other testimony Wednesday from FBI Special Agent Robert Miranda focused on HLF's efforts to protect its cover.
In July 2000 Baker hired a private investigator to check HLF office for bugs or other forms of surveillance. "The Basic RF Counter-Surveillance Sweep determined that certain aspects within the facility, and therefore the Foundation, have been under technical surveillance by unknown entities, for an undetermined period of time. At the time of the sweep, certain recommendations were made regarding these findings, as well as some general suggestions," wrote Shihan Hale, president and CEO of the Executive Protection Group, Inc. in Dallas.
Hale offered a second title under his signature, that of Regional Director of Security for the Muslim American Society (MAS).
Evidence previously admitted in the trial shows MAS tasked as part of a "Confrontation Work Plan" in the agenda of a July 30, 1994 meeting of the Palestine Committee. "The activation of the role of MAS" is called upon "to educate the brothers in all work centers, mosques and organizations on the necessity of stopping any contacts with the Zionist organizations and the rejection of any future contacts…"
Court was dismissed early today and will resume Monday.