WASHINGTON, July 26 – A shuttered Islamic charity in Dallas, accused of being a financial front for Middle East terrorists, charged Monday that the Federal Bureau of Investigation falsified evidence and “fabricated a case” against it in an effort to show that it financed Palestinian suicide-bombers.
The charity, the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, brought a formal complaint with the Justice Department inspector general and requested an investigation, saying that the F.B.I. used as the crux of its case a “distorted” and erroneous translation of sensitive Israeli intelligence material. The Holy Land group said it hired an independent translating service in Oregon, which cited 67 discrepancies or errors in translation in a four-page F.B.I. document used in the case.
The F.B.I. and the inspector general’s office said they had not yet seen the request for an investigation and could not comment on the specifics of the accusations. But an F.B.I. official who spoke on condition of anonymity said that “our investigation was based on the facts that were developed, and I’m not aware of any concerns expressed with regard to the translations used in the case.”
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The inspector general recently completed a separate investigation into a former F.B.I. translator’s accusations that the bureau failed to address widespread problems in its ability to translate terrorist-related intelligence. That report remains classified, though officials are seeking to release a declassified version.
The Holy Land group was the biggest Islamic charity in the United States before the Bush administration froze its assets after the Sept. 11 attacks, accusing it of using charitable contributions to help finance terrorist activities by Hamas, a Palestinian group that was designated a terrorist organization in 1997.
For Holy Land, a group described by Attorney General John Ashcroft in 2002 as “the North American front for Hamas,” the request for a Justice Department investigation represents a last-gasp effort to defend its tattered name and remain in business in the face of a continuing criminal investigation.
“We’re one thousand percent confident of our innocence, and we’re going to fight as long as we can to get the truth out,” Shukri Abu Baker, the foundation’s former chief executive, said in an interview on Monday. “It’s open season on American Muslims in this country, and that’s what really scares me in all this.”
At the center of the foundation’s accusations is a 54-page memorandum prepared by the F.B.I. in November 2001 that lays out the case against the group. It traces the F.B.I.’s suspicions about the group to a 1993 meeting in Philadelphia of foundation leaders – in which the F.B.I. said that participants were heard to refer to financial support for “Samah,” or Hamas spelled backwards. The memorandum said that “evidence strongly suggests that the HLFRD has provided crucial financial support for families of Hamas suicide bombers, as well as the Palestinians who adhere to the Hamas movement.”
But in its complaint, the foundation says that the F.B.I. memorandum was “in almost every instance materially misleading” and that the officials who prepared it – including one whom a special intelligence court had cited for giving it misleading information – made misrepresentations that “were either intentional or in reckless disregard of the truth.”
In particular, the group cites statements in an F.B.I. document from a Holy Land manager in the West Bank, who reportedly acknowledged that the foundation gave some of its money to Hamas. Holy Land said in its complaint that the manager’s original statement, taken down in Hebrew by Israeli officials, did not include such an admission and that “it only appeared in what appears to be a falsified, anonymous translation of that statement that the F.B.I. used to support its case.”
The complaint also cites what it described as other important omissions in the F.B.I. document. In one instance, the F.B.I. memorandum pointed to Holy Land’s financial support for a Hamas-affiliated hospital in Palestine, Al Razi Hospital, but it did not mention that the United States Agency for International Development had also helped the same hospital.
A federal judge in 2002 refused to reverse the Bush administration order freezing Holy Land’s assets, and an appellate court last year upheld that decision, finding that there was “ample evidence” that the group had financial ties to Hamas.
But John Boyd, a lawyer for the foundation, maintained in an interview that the courts relied on secret evidence, including the challenged F.B.I. memorandum, and that Holy Land was never allowed to present a full defense.
“The government’s case rests on highly questionable evidence, and my hope is that someone in a position of authority is finally going to take a look at what happened here,” Mr. Boyd said.
For his part, Mr. Baker, Holy Land’s former chief executive, said he remained worried that he and others affiliated with the foundation might be arrested at almost any time. “We live in constant fear and anxiety,” he said.
While the Justice Department has not charged anyone at the foundation with the direct financing of Hamas, it earned a conviction this month against Ghassan Elashi, the foundation’s former chairman, and his four brothers for illegally selling high-technology goods to Syria and Libya.