Muslim charity trial may shed new light on terror aid

Evidence against Dallas group may link other U.S. organizations to financing for Hamas

DALLAS — Prosecutors have produced scores of documents, audio and videotapes, and intercepted phone calls in their attempt to prove that a Muslim charity based in a suburban Dallas office park was actually a fundraising arm of Middle Eastern terrorists.

Much of the evidence has surfaced before in books, newspaper articles and previous trials. But those who track terror-financing say the document haul from the trial of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development has also produced new information.

They say the documents shed light on a web of related organizations of militant Palestinian supporters in the United States, some of whom saw their goal as destroying Western civilization.

The 1991 bylaws of a group called the Palestine Committee say it was created to be the highest authority on "work for the Palestinian cause on the American front." The committee was led by Mousa Abu Marzook, later deported to Jordan and labeled a terrorist by the U.S. government.

The committee oversaw a number of former and current Muslim organizations in the United States.

One was Holy Land, which was shut down in December 2001 and is accused of being a fundraising front for Hamas. Five of its former leaders are on trial in Dallas, charged with sending more than $12 million in illegal aid to Hamas.

Another was the Islamic Association for Palestine, which closed in 2004 after a federal judge found it and then-defunct Holy Land liable in the killing of an American teenager in Israel by Hamas gunmen.

And a third was the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, which has emerged as a leading advocacy group for American Muslims.

For the first time, evidence in the case put CAIR's founder, Nihad Awad, at a Philadelphia meeting of alleged Hamas supporters that was secretly watched and recorded by the FBI.

The groups had overlapping rosters of leaders. Documents introduced by prosecutors in the Holy Land trial list several of the charity's leaders as officials in the Islamic Association for Palestine.

Bank records show financial transactions between both organizations and Marzook, which prosecutors contend shows that Hamas invested seed money in the U.S. groups so they could then raise more funds for Hamas from American Muslims.

Douglas Farah, author of Blood from Stones, a book on terrorists' financial networks, said the document trail reveals something he and others had surmised but didn't know for sure — that the groups were part of a coordinated strategy for raising money and support in the United States for radical Islamic groups, including Hamas.

"It's clear these groups grew out of an effort to carry out a specific strategy in the United States," Farah said. "It's in their own words, it's a political infiltration that worked for 40 years."

Parvez Ahmed, chairman of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, denied that his group or its current or former leaders had any ties to Hamas.

"That's one of those urban legends about CAIR," he said. "It's fed by the right-wing, pro-Israeli blogosphere."

Ahmed said the Philadelphia gathering attended by CAIR's founder "was an open meeting of Palestinian activists who came together to discuss the Olso peace accords and their struggle to gain a homeland."

Some of the evidence in the case came from wiretaps, including an FBI recording of the Philadelphia meeting at which participants referred to helping Hamas or Samah — Hamas spelled backward. Much of that material had surfaced in earlier trials of other men accused — and acquitted — of aiding terrorists.

Other information came from Israeli military operations, and some came from a 2004 raid at the Virginia home of a former Marzook aide.

Other evidence was literally unearthed — dug up from the backyard of a home where an unindicted co-conspirator of the Holy Land defendants once lived.

One of the documents is a memo about the goals for the U.S. organization of the U.S. faction of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose members included some of the Holy Land leaders now on trial.

The memo's writer, Mohamed Akram, wrote that members of the Brotherhood "must understand that their work in America is a kind of grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within."

But will the inflammatory comments of associates matter in the trial of five leaders of Holy Land Foundation? They are accused of aiding terrorists, conspiracy, money laundering and tax charges.

Joshua Dratel, the attorney for one of the Holy Land defendants, said his client didn't help Hamas and didn't want to see Palestinians or Israelis killed. Defense lawyers said Holy Land raised money for schools and hospitals, not terrorists.

The mountain of documents, including records of dozens of financial transactions between Holy Land and Palestinian charities allegedly controlled by Hamas, won't necessarily translate into convictions against the Holy Land defendants, said Dennis Lormel, who worked on terrorist-financing issues at the FBI and is now a consultant.

"It's difficult to follow," said Lormel, who like Farah has blogged about the trial. "If you're the government, you want to simplify as much as you can."

Two other high-profile cases of men charged with helping terrorists ended in acquittals on the major charges. If that happens in Holy Land, the government will have to rethink its strategy of building cases on mountains of documents, Lormel said.

"The government will have to see if you can get informants and undercover agents, but that's a very difficult thing to do," he said. "Penetrating those groups would be a tremendous challenge."

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