U.S. Muslim charity, 7 officers charged

Group accused of giving financial aid to terrorist Hamas organization


DALLAS - The Holy Land Foundation and seven of its officers were charged yesterday with funneling millions of dollars to Hamas, a terrorist group responsible for suicide bombings in Israel.

The Richardson, Texas-based charity, its president, chairman and five other men were named in a 42-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury here.

The indictment alleges Holy Land, once the nation's largest Muslim charity, sent at least $12.4 million to individuals and groups linked to Hamas after 1995, the year the United States designated it a terrorist group.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush closed the charity by executive order in December 2001.

"Today, a U.S.-based charity that claims to do good works is charged with funding the works of evil," Attorney General John Ashcroft said at a Washington news conference. "To those who exploit good hearts to secretly fund violence and murder, this prosecution sends a clear message: There is no distinction between those who carry out terrorist attacks and those who knowingly finance terrorist attacks."

Ashcroft called suicide bombings aimed at innocent civilians a Hamas "trademark" and noted that several Americans have been among its hundreds of victims.

In Damascus, Syria, a Hamas leader accused the Bush administration of using the case to help in the president's re-election.

"Hamas did not take any penny from the Holy Land Foundation," Moussa Abu Marzouk, a member of Hamas' political bureau, told the Associated Press. "Hamas has its own means of funding and that is not connected with any institution in the West."

The indictment names the foundation along with its president, Shukri Abu Baker; chairman Ghassan Elashi; executive director Haitham Maghawri; Holy Land's original chairman, Mohammad El-Mezain; grants director Akram Mishal; top fund-raiser Mufid Abdulqader; and Abdulraham Odeh, the group's New Jersey director.

The charges include conspiracy, providing financial and material support to a terrorist organization, money-laundering and tax evasion.

Tim Evans, an attorney for Elashi and Abu Baker, said he knew of "no credible real evidence that any of these people intended for any charity money to end up in the hands of Hamas terrorists."

"This investigation has been going on for 10 years, and I don't see anything in the indictment that is new," Evans said. "It causes me to wonder why Attorney General Ashcroft himself conducted a national press conference on the second day of the Democratic convention."

Abu Baker, Elashi and Abdulqader were arrested early yesterday without incident at their homes in suburban Dallas, officials said. El-Mezain was arrested in San Diego and Odeh in Clifton, N.J. Maghawri and Mishal are not in the United States and are considered fugitives.

Holy Land leaders have long maintained that the group aided the legitimately needy, but the indictment said those claims were a mantle designed to hide its real mission from increasing government scrutiny in the mid-1990s. The indictment was unsealed one day after Holy Land filed a complaint with the inspector general of the Justice Department, accusing the FBI of fabricating the evidence used to shut down Holy Land and freeze about $4 million in assets.

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