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Holy Land Foundation defendants face mixed verdicts

The Dallas Morning News, USA
Oct. 22, 2007
Jason Trahan and Michael Grabell
www.dallasnews.com

ReligionNewsBlog.com • Monday October 22, 2007

The jury in the Holy Land Foundation terrorism-financing trial was unable to reach unanimous decisions on most of the defendants including the Holy Land Foundation itself, U.S. District Judge Joe Fish said Monday.

He ordered them back to the jury room to discuss whether further deliberations might allow them to reach a decision. If not, he is likely to declare a hung jury on many counts in the complex case. In all, the jury was asked to make 197 decisions on guilt or innocence.

One official — Mufid Abdulqader, a top Holy Land fundraiser and former Dallas public works supervisor — was found not guilty on all counts. Two other officials — Mohammad El-Mezain, the Holy Land’s original chairman and endowments director, and Abdulrahman Odeh, the foundation’s New Jersey representative, were acquitted on most of the charges.

The jury was hung on the others. But when polled, three jurors told the judge that they did not agree with the verdicts, prompting the judge to send them back to the jury room.

“Your verdict must be unanimous and it’s apparent to me from the answers of three members of the jury in respect to my question that the verdicts that I read earlier do not represent the unanimous view of the jury,” Judge Fish said.

The five defendants have had an unexpected four-day wait to learn their fate after the verdict was sealed on Thursday because the judge was out of town. This delay came after 19 days of deliberations and a two-month trial.

None of the defendants are accused of committing or directly sponsoring any violent acts. The government contends that they sent more than $12 million to Palestinian charity committees that they knew to be controlled by Hamas, which has targeted Israeli civilians for more than a decade.

The indictment alleges that the Holy Land foundation sponsored fundraising events in which speakers performed skits and songs that advocated the destruction of Israel and glorified the killing of Jewish people. According to prosecutors, it targeted families of “martyrs” for financial aid.

Defense attorneys say their clients ran a legitimate charity and had no terrorist ties.

The most serious charge carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison.

It is unclear if the government will retry the defendants on those charges where there was no unanimous verdict.

The Holy Land Foundation had been the largest Muslim charity in the U.S. until it was shut down by President Bush. The case was the biggest terror finance trial in U.S. history.

Defense attorneys and Holy Land supporters have long called the case a politically-driven prosecution prompted by pressure from the Israeli government and shot through with post 9/11 anti-Muslim bias.

A common and sustained criticism of the U.S. government’s 14-year investigation of Holy Land and other foreign charities thought to be supporting overseas terrorism is that the investigations are politically motivated and driven by post-9/11 racial prejudice against Arabs.

Failure to secure convictions on the some charges comes on the heels of two high-stakes losses in two other similar terrorism financing cases.

Earlier this year, an Illinois jury acquitted a Chicago-area businessman on charges that he and a co-defendant aided Palestinian terrorists. Two years earlier, a Florida professor also was found not guilty on similar terrorism-support charges, and the jury deadlocked on several other charges.

The government, however, has gotten guilty verdicts on terrorism support charges, particularly in New York and Virginia. But none of those cases were against an entity the size of Holy Land.

Between 1992, the year Holy Land relocated from California to Richardson, and when Bush administration regulators shut it down in December 2001, Holy Land took in about $57 million.

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