Jury Reaches Verdict in Case of Muslim Charity Accused of Funding Terror

DALLAS — A jury has reached a verdict in the federal case against five former leaders of a Muslim charity, but there was no assurance jurors had reached a decision on the major charges that the organization provided aid to the militant group Hamas.

The former members of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development — once the nation’s largest Muslim charity — were set to learn Monday whether the jury had found them guilty or innocent of charges they funneled millions in illegal aid to Middle Eastern terrorists.

The United States designated Hamas a terrorist group in 1995 and again in 1997, making financial transactions with the group illegal.

The jury reached its verdict Thursday after 19 days of deliberation. But a magistrate ordered it sealed so the judge and all the prosecutors who handled the case could be present.

Each of the five defendants faces up to 35 counts, including conspiracy and money laundering. Judge A. Joe Fish could order further deliberations or accept a partial result and declare a mistrial on undecided charges if jurors failed to agree on some counts.

The case’s importance to the government was illustrated in December 2001, when President Bush and then-Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the seizure of Holy Land’s assets.

As was the case at the beginning of the two-month trial, courtroom security was expected to be tight Monday.

The defendants are Holy Land’s former chief executive, Shukri Abu Baker; former chairmen Ghassan Elashi and Mohammed El-Mezain; the group’s New Jersey representative, Abdulrahman Odeh; and fundraiser Mufid Abdulqader.

Abdulqader is the half brother of Hamas political chief Khalid Mishal, whom the U.S. government also designated a terrorist. Elashi is serving an 80-month sentence after being convicted at an earlier trial of having financial dealings with another designated terrorist, Hamas official Mousa Abu Marzook, who married Elashi’s cousin.

Lawyers for the Holy Land officials said the group was a legitimate charity that provided medical help, social services and schooling to Palestinian children and families. The group sent millions of dollars to Palestinian charities in Gaza and the West Bank, areas occupied by Israel.

An Israeli security lawyer, who was allowed to testify under a false name, said the Palestinian charities were controlled by Hamas, which conducts suicide bombings inside Israel.

Defense lawyers tried to rebut the lawyer’s testimony by calling a retired U.S. diplomat in Jerusalem, who said he was privy to daily CIA briefings and was never told that Hamas controlled the charities. The U.S. government never designated the charities as terrorist organizations.

Holy Land was founded in California and moved to the Dallas suburb of Richardson in 1992. Three of the defendants attended a 1993 meeting in Philadelphia where participants spoke of helping Hamas derail a 1993 peace agreement between Israel and Palestinian representatives. The FBI secretly recorded the meeting.

Gary Osen, a New Jersey lawyer who has sued banks he believes handle money for terrorist groups including Al Qaeda, said the Holy Land case was more important in the war on terror than cases that got more attention, such as that of failed shoe bomber Richard Reid.

“Most of the money that moves globally on behalf of Islamic terrorist organizations is moved through charitable front organizations,” Osen said.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday October 22, 2007.
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