Case Against Islamic Charity Opens

Mahdi Bray, of the Muslim American Society, spoke in support of the Holy Land Foundation outside of the Texas court where it is  on trial.
Mahdi Bray, of the Muslim American Society, spoke in support of the Holy Land Foundation outside of the Texas court where it is on trial. (By Donna Mcwilliam -- Associated Press)
By Robert Barnes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Federal prosecutors opened their case yesterday against what was once the nation's largest Islamic charity, arguing in a Dallas courtroom that the organization funneled at least $12 million to Palestinian militants.

The Texas-based Holy Land Foundation was shut down by President Bush three months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. It is accused of knowing that the money it sent to charities in the Middle East benefited Hamas, the militant Palestinian group officially designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government. Administration officials say the trial is an important battle in the fight to cut off funding to terrorists.

But the case is also drawing intense scrutiny in the American Muslim community because of a listing of 300 individuals and groups named in the indictment as unindicted co-conspirators, including established organizations such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Parvez Ahmed, chairman of CAIR's national board, called the unusual list a "broad smear" and added, "We're being accused of something, but what we're being accused of, I don't know."

Prosecutors told jurors yesterday that the foundation and five organizers -- all but one are U.S. citizens -- sent at least $12 million to "zakat" committees controlled by Hamas. Zakat is a required form of the charitable giving that is one of the pillars of Islam.

The indictment charges that the foundation in part directed the money to take care of the families of suicide bombers, an action to "effectively reward past, and encourage future, suicide bombings and terrorist activities."

Assistant U.S. Attorney James Jacks said the 14-year investigation of the group revealed defendants phoning one another to describe Hamas suicide bombing attacks as "beautiful operations." He said the foundation and defendants shared Hamas's goal of the destruction of Israel. One of the men participated in a skit at a fundraiser that purported to show a Palestinian killing an Israeli, he said.

The organization's leaders lied about their real purpose "because to tell the truth would reveal what they were all about -- the destruction of the state of Israel and replacing it with a Palestinian Islamic state," Jacks said, the Associated Press reported.

But defense attorney Nancy Hollander said the foundation and the men on trial did nothing more than contribute money to charities, none of which are marked as terrorist organizations by the U.S. government.

"Holy Land had nothing to do with politics," said Hollander, the AP reported. "Its focus was on children in need." Hollander represents Shukri Abu Baker, who is on trial along with Mohammed El-Mezain, Mufid Abdulqader, Ghassan Elashi and Abdulraham Odeh.

Prosecutors have told the court it will take at least three months to present the complicated case. It relies on a mountain of documents, years of intercepted phone conversations, information from Israeli intelligence agencies and disputed transcripts that contain conversations translated from Arabic to Hebrew to English.

Judge A. Joe Fish has said he will allow two Israeli agents to testify in a closed courtroom with their identities concealed.

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