Win or lose, efforts by two Islamist groups to purge their names from a list of unindicted co-conspirators in a Hamas-support trial have proven counter-productive. The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and its related financial arm the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT) were named among eight "individuals/entities who are and/or were members of the US Muslim Brotherhood," in court papers filed in May 2007.
Prosecutors say the groups were part of a broad scheme to support Hamas financially and politically. The Texas-based Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) was at the heart of that scheme. It and five former officials face a retrial Sept. 8 on charges they conspired to provide material support to Hamas. With that looming, ISNA and NAIT petitioned U.S. District Judge Jorge A. Solis in June, demanding they be struck from the list.
It is one thing to persuade gullible politicians and journalists that their established roots in the Muslim Brotherhood either don't exist or don't matter. But to argue in court does nothing but beg a pointed and damaging response.
Their brief, filed on their behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union, argued that inclusion among groups and people who belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood in America improperly labeled them without a chance to defend themselves. This, they claim, is harming their reputations with government agencies and other religious organizations.
In their reply, prosecutors repeated, with renewed media attention, just how connected to terror support ISNA and NAIT are. They pointed to nearly two dozen exhibits which establish:
"both ISNA's and NAIT's intimate relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood, the Palestine Committee, and the defendants in this case. Accordingly, there is no possible basis for petitioner's ‘expungement' from the Government's list of co-conspirators and joint venturers."
First, "ISNA and NAIT were among those organizations created by the U.S.-Muslim Brotherhood." This 1991 document traces the Brotherhood's organizational evolution in the United States. Bullet point 2 on page 4 says the Muslim Students Union (aka Muslim Students Association) was formed by "a group of the first Ikhwans [Muslim Brothers] in North America and the meetings of the Ikhwan became conferences and Students Union camps."
Three paragraphs later, the document, approved by the Committee's Shura Council, described how ISNA grew out of the Union "to include all the Muslim congregation from immigrants and citizens, and to be a nucleus for the Islamic Movement in North America (See the ISNA Concept in 1979)."
Internal evidence, from wiretapped conversations to documents like the one just described, show that the Brotherhood created the Palestine Committee in America "to support HAMAS with ‘media, money and men,' the brief said. ISNA and NAIT, prosecutors argue, were part of the money:
ISNA checks deposited into the ISNA/NAIT account for the HLF were often made payable to "the Palestinian Mujahadeen," the original name for the HAMAS military wing. Govt. Exh. 1-174. From that ISNA/NAIT account, the HLF sent hundreds of thousands of dollars to HAMAS leader Mousa Abu Marzook, Nadia Elashi (defendant Ghassan Elashi's cousin and Marzook's wife), Sheikh Ahmed Yassin's Islamic Center of Gaza, the Islamic University, and a number of other individuals associated with HAMAS. Govt. Exh. 20-55, 20-56.
ISNA was also discussed during the 1993 Philadelphia conference, a meeting of the Palestine Committee convened to discuss the impact of the Oslo Accords. Govt. Exh. 16-47. During the conference, Palestine Committee members discussed using ISNA as official cover for their activities. Govt. Exh. 16-0059 at 10-11; 16-60. In short, evidence introduced during the course of a public trial demonstrates that ISNA and NAIT are indeed co-conspirators/joint venturers, and no relief that the Court can grant would alter the state of the record in that regard.
So ISNA and NAIT have moved from unindicted co-conspirators, a fairly broad description, to "organizations created by the U.S.-Muslim Brotherhood," a fact they dispute whenever they can.
They could have learned the lesson offered by a similar filing late last summer from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Evidence in the first HLF trial showed CAIR's founders participated in a secret 1993 Muslim Brotherhood committee meeting in which plans to "derail" the Oslo peace deal were discussed. CAIR was created less than a year later and listed on a roster of the committee's American entities.
Still, the motion opened the door for prosecutors to set an important precedent, officially and definitively linking CAIR to Hamas, writing:
In the instant case, striking CAIR's name from the attachment to the Trial Brief will not prevent its conspiratorial involvement with HLF, and others affiliated with Hamas, from becoming a matter of public record. That has already occurred as a consequence of the presentation of evidence at trial. (emphasis added)
Not satisfied, CAIR joined the Muslim American Society (MAS) in filing friend of the court briefs in the Virginia appeal of Sabri Benkahla, whose sentence for perjury and obstruction of justice was greatly enhanced because of the terrorist nature of the investigation at the center of his 2007 conviction.
That allowed prosecutors to note that, in their assessment of evidence, CAIR "conspired with other affiliates of the Muslim Brotherhood to support terrorists." And they memorialized in writing their belief that MAS was "founded as the overt arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in the United States."
Meanwhile, CAIR's brief has never been ruled on and Benkahla's conviction and sentence were upheld by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. So, for their troubles, CAIR and MAS gained only new pockmarks on their reputations.
ISNA gets to respond to the government brief before U.S. District Judge Jorge A. Solis rules on the motion. If Solis denies the motion, it adds new weight to the government's label. If Solis grants it, the government response has memorialized a connection in much sharper tone. They have only drawn more attention to evidence that directly challenges their denials of involvement in radical causes and terror support.