DALLAS: An unknown Islamist militant appealed to a Texas-based Muslim charity for money to help fund a jihad, or holy war, against Israel, according to a letter that surfaced in the terrorist-financing trial of the charity’s leaders.
The letters were among thousands of pages of documents that prosecutors claim show financial dealings between Holy Land, which was shut down in December 2001, and groups controlled by Hamas, the Palestinian militant group the U.S. government considers a terrorist organization.
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Five former leaders of Holy Land are on trial in federal district court on charges of raising more than $12 million for Hamas, conspiracy and money laundering. They could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted.
Defense lawyers, who will begin making their case on Tuesday, have said the men gave humanitarian aid to schools, orphanages and hospitals in Palestinian areas of Israel but denied helping Hamas.
Prosecutors finished presenting evidence on Thursday after six weeks of testimony.
The most inflammatory document introduced by prosecutors was an unsigned, handwritten letter in Arabic from the Islamic Relief Committee, which the U.S. government contends is part of Hamas’ network of social organization in Gaza and the West Bank. The unknown author told leaders of Holy Land that Palestinians were happy to see fighters carrying out attacks on Jews.
“Jihad in Palestine is different from any other Jihad; the meaning of killing a Jew for the liberation of Palestine cannot be compared to any Jihad on earth,” the author wrote.
The letter implored supporters to “provide us with what helps Weapons, weapons, our brothers.”
FBI agent Lara Burns testified that the letter was seized in a 2004 raid at the Virginia home of Ismail Elbarrasse, who served with some of the Holy Land officials on a group of U.S. supporters of the Palestinian cause.
Another letter, from 2000, was a thank-you note from the Islamic Society in Palestine, a group the U.S. government alleges is controlled by Hamas. A group official, Sheikh Ahmad Mohamed Bahr, thanked Holy Land for helping “the children of the martyrs, the wounded, the injured, and the needy.”
Other documents appeared to indicate that Holy Land gave money to Hamas officials and fighters whom Israel deported to Lebanon in the early 1990s.
Prosecutors also offered summaries of money that Holy Land sent to zakat committees, or Muslim charities in Palestinian territories allegedly controlled by Hamas.
Defense attorneys are expected to hit hard at the notion that the zakats were controlled by Hamas. The prosecution’s allegation relies on the word of an Israeli government lawyer who testified anonymously and out of public view.
After the prosecution rested its case Thursday, the defense lawyers asked Judge A. Joe Fish to dismiss the case, but he declined, ruling that the government presented enough evidence to continue the trial.
The judge had ruled against the defense at many turns, including rejecting calls for a mistrial and resisting most efforts to block evidence presented by prosecutors. Last week, defendant Ghassan Elashi protested about the trial’s fairness. The judge warned him against further outbursts.