DALLAS – From donations urging violence to advertisements and videos lauding one of the fathers of global jihad, evidence in the Hamas-support trial against former officials at the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) Thursday took a decidedly bloody tone.
The five defendants are accused of illegally funneling $12 million to Hamas through a series of charities, or zakat committees in the West Bank and Gaza. FBI agent Lara Burns has been on the witness stand all week, presenting evidence establishing the group's stated and passionate support for Hamas.
A mistrial was declared last October after jurors could not reach unanimous verdicts on most counts. Defendant Mohamed El-Mezain was acquitted on all counts against him with the exception of a conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists.
This time, added care seems to be taken to identify all the players and define their connections to the case. In addition, some of the exhibits were not entered into evidence last year.
Defense attorneys argue the men merely sought to alleviate suffering by needy Palestinians living under occupation. The images displayed Thursday rarely invoked those needy people, but focused instead on the need to attack.
Several exhibits showing HLF's invocation Abdullah Azzam, an iconic Palestinian jihadist, are among the new evidence presented by the government. Azzam moved to Pakistan after the Russian invasion of Afghanistan to set up the Office of Services of the Holy Warriors (Mujahideen) and is considered a mentor to Osama bin Laden.
The Azzam exhibits were admitted over the objection of defense attorneys. Under the judge's order, jurors were not told of Azzam's role with bin Laden and the global jihad, but did hear references to Azzam's work on behalf of Afghanistan's mujahideen. In a video from a 1988 rally in California, the year HLF was founded as the Occupied Land Fund, Azzam is shown urging Palestinians to fight to the death:
"O, people of Palestine, it is time for you to pledge death.
Live with self-respect or die honorably between
piercing lances and fluttering flags. The heads
of the spears are stronger than treachery and are
a better healing to the cunning chest of the envious.
What is life? What is life if I don't live it with honor and respect."
Azzam was killed in a car bombing in 1989. He was mourned in an issue of Ila Filastin, a magazine published by the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP). The IAP and HLF had a formal agreement to work together on fundraising.
An advertisement near the article urged readers to "perform jihad with your money to the maximum you can" to the HLF.
Jurors then saw another rally in which HLF officials raised money in Hamas' name. And they saw a second skit featuring defendant Mufid Abdelqader portraying a Hamas terrorist. He confronts an actor portraying an Israeli civilian and tells him to "get out."
The "Jew" says he isn't afraid, prompting a chilling audience response:
And I, the Jew, do not get scared.
And Hitler had killed thousands.
Audience: May God increase them
Where are you, O fleeting Zionist?
Hamas is after you every where.
Where are you, O fleeting Zionist?
Abdelqader then throws his arms out wide and strangles the Israeli as the crowd cheers.
Under questioning from federal prosecutor Barry Jonas, FBI agent Lara Burns said she interviewed Abdelqader in 2002. Abdelqader told her he didn't work with HLF or know its leaders until he moved to Dallas in 1995. But HLF records indicate the foundation covered Abdelqader's travel expenses and paid him fees for his performances. And HLF executive director Shukri Abu Baker mentioned Abdelqader in a 1990 rally in which he named all the performers on stage.
Rallies after Hamas was designated as a terrorist organization in 1995 took on a softer tone, Burns said. Still, a rally after the designation featured praise for Hamas leaders Ahmed Yassin, Mousa Abu Marzook and Abdel Aziz Rantisi.
Other exhibits showed that defendant Mohamed El-Mezain often received Hamas communiqués distributed by the IAP, both before and after Hamas' designation as a terrorist entity. And El-Mezain and defendant Abdelrahman Odeh, who ran HLF's New Jersey office, discussed how to handle money in the wake of the Hamas designation.
Concerned about drawing attention, Odeh subsequently made two cash deposits at a New Jersey bank on consecutive days; one for $8,500 and one for $8,000. Jurors were told that any deposit more than $10,000 would trigger a currency transaction report.
Before the designation, HLF often accepted donations made out to support the "Palestinian Mujahideen," which Yassin said in an interview was the original name of the Hamas military wing, the Izzedin Al Qassam Brigade. A New Jersey man donated $25 in 1996, urging that his money go "for relief supplies and weapons to crush the hated enemy."
The donation letter grew more strident, as the writer, Sultan Mahmoud, cited the Thanksgiving holiday and said the United States stole the land from Native Americans who were either killed or left on reservations:
"The Islamic Ummah (nation) must not let this happen to us. We must destroy Isreal (sic) & unite & get nuclear weapons to kill the west if they attack our member nations of the Ummah. Unity -> means restore kilafa (Khalifa)."
HLF put Mahmoud on its mailing list and sent him repeated solicitations for more donations, Burns said. He gave another $95 the following year.
Burns and Jonas quickly pored through a series of bank records showing hundreds of thousands of dollars flowing from HLF to the zakat committees in the West Bank and Gaza. Prosecutors did not yet try to show how those committees are connected to Hamas, something that could prove pivotal in the jury's deliberations.
That, Jonas indicated, will come in subsequent testimony. After jurors were dismissed, Jonas told U.S. District Judge Jorge A. Solis that his questioning of Burns likely was finished. Defense attorneys will begin their cross examination of her Friday morning.