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Terrorism & Security

Heads of US charity convicted on terror-financing charges

Five leaders of the Holy Land Foundation funneled money to organizations controlled by the militant group Hamas, a jury decided Monday.

By Huma Yusuf / November 25, 2008

A Texas-based Muslim charity, the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, and five of its former leaders were convicted Monday of funneling $12.4 million to the Palestinian Islamic group Hamas between 1995 and 2001. In 1995, the United States designated Hamas as a terrorist group, and donations to the organization are illegal. The Holy Land trial was the biggest terrorism-financing case since Sept. 11, 2001, and marks the government's first victory against terrorism funding.

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According to the BBC, District Judge Jorge Solis announced guilty verdicts on all 108 counts in the case.

The former head of the charity, Ghassan Elashi, and the former chief executive, Shukri Abu-Baker, were convicted of 69 counts including money laundering and tax fraud.
Mufid Abdulqader and Abdulrahman Odeh were convicted on three counts of conspiracy, and Mohammed El-Mezain was convicted on one count of conspiracy to support a terrorist organisation.
The Holy Land group was convicted on 32 counts.

The Holy Land Foundation was accused of funding organizations under the control of Hamas, reports the Associated Press (AP).

Holy Land wasn't accused of violence. Rather, the government said the Richardson, Texas-based charity financed schools, hospitals and social welfare programs controlled by Hamas in areas ravaged by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict....
Prosecutors labeled Holy Land's benefactors – called zakat committees – as terrorist-recruiting pools. The charities, the government argued, spread Hamas' violent ideology and generated loyalty and support among Palestinians.

According to The New York Times, a federal prosecutor argued against the defendants' claims that the Holy Land Foundation, once the largest Muslim charity in the US, was providing legitimate humanitarian aid.

The prosecutor, Barry Jonas, told jurors in closing arguments last week that they should not be deceived by the foundation's cover of humanitarian work, describing the charities it financed as terrorist recruitment centers that were part of a "womb to the tomb" cycle.

Judge Solis has ordered that the foundation's convicted leaders be detained, citing their ties to the Middle East, reports the AP. A sentencing date has yet to be scheduled, but the punishments are expected to be steep. Leaders of the defunct foundation might also be required to forfeit millions of dollars.

Supporting a terrorist organization carries a maximum 15-year sentence on each count; money laundering carries a maximum 20 years on each conviction.

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