x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Muslim charity leaders jailed in US

Two leaders of what was once the largest Muslim charity in the United States were sentenced to 65 years in jail today for supporting Palestinian militants.

Two leaders of what was once the largest Muslim charity in the United States were sentenced to 65 years in jail today for supporting Palestinian militants. The Texas-based Holy Land Foundation and five of its leaders were convicted late last year of funnelling more than 12 million dollars to Hamas in the largest terror financing case in US history. Jurors returned guilty verdicts on 108 charges of providing material support to terrorists, money laundering and tax fraud.

"These sentences should serve as a strong warning to anyone who knowingly provides financial support to terrorists under the guise of humanitarian relief," said David Kris, assistant US lawyer general for national security. Holy Land chief executive officer Shukri Abu Baker, whose brother Jamal Issa is the head of Hamas operations in Yemen, was sentenced to 65 years in jail. Chairman and cofounder Ghassan Elashi, who is related by marriage to Hamas political leader Mousa Abu Marzook, received the same sentence.

"I would like to declare my innocence of all the charges," said a defiant Elashi, who called the case an "unjust political prosecution." Holy Land cofounder Mohammad El-Mezain, a cousin of Marzook, and Abdulrahman Odeh, the charity's New Jersey representative, both received 15 years. The two men declared they were innocent in remarks to the judge and courtroom. Fundraiser Mufid Abdulqader, brother of Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal, received 20 years.

"I do acknowledge the verdict in this trial," Abdulqader said during the sentencing hearing. "I believe in the system. My faith has not been shaken, it's been inspired. But it is un-American to ignore suffering and starving women and children." Prosecutors did not accuse the charity of directly financing or being involved in terror. Instead, they said humanitarian aid was used to promote Hamas and allow it to divert existing funds to militant activities.

Defense attorneys said the charity was a non-political organisation that operated legally to get much-needed aid to Palestinians living in squalor under the Israeli occupation and argued that their clients were on trial chiefly because of their family ties. The Holy Land case was a major victory in former president George W Bush's "war on terror." Holy Land was one of several Muslim organisations the Bush administration shut down in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks for allegedly raising money for Islamic extremists overseas.

Muslim charities that remained open reported significant drops in contributions because of fears of prosecution even as juries deadlocked on the Holy Land case and rendered acquittals and convictions of lesser charges in two other high-profile terror financing cases in Florida and Chicago. The Justice Department vowed in October 2007 to retry the five Holy Land leaders after jurors could not agree on verdicts on nearly 200 charges, and a new jury was seated in mid-September.

Prosecutors took about two months to present evidence that Holy Land was created in the late 1980s to gather donations from deep-pocketed American Muslims to support the then-newly formed Hamas movement resisting the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands. Hamas ? a multifaceted Islamist political, social and armed movement that controls the Gaza Strip since ousting forces loyal to Western-backed Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in June 2007 ? was designated a terror organisation by the United States in 1995 and the trial centred over whether Holy Land continued to support the group after this point.

*AFP