DALLAS (CN) – Five members of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, a Richardson-based Muslim charity, were sentenced to long prison terms for their convictions on federal charges of providing material support to Hamas, which is designated as a terrorist organization.
“The defendants provided financial support to the families of Hamas martyrs, detainees, and activists knowing and intending that such assistance would support the Hamas terrorist organization,” the U.S. Justice Department said in a statement.
“Since 1995, when it first became illegal to provide financial support to Hamas, HLF provided approximately $12.4 million in funding to Hamas through various Hamas-affiliated committees and organizations located in Palestinian-controlled areas and elsewhere.”
Shukri Abu Baker, 50, of Garland, was sentenced to 65 years in prison.
Mohammad El-Mezain, 55, of San Diego, Calif., was sentenced to 15 years.
Ghassan Elashi, 55, of Richardson, received 65 years.
Mufid Abdulqader, 49, of Richardson, was sentenced to 20 years.
Abdulrahman Odeh, 49, of Paterson, N.J., received a 15-year sentence.
A federal jury convicted them on 108 charges in November 2008, after a mistrial in 2007 in which federal prosecutors failed to convince jurors the charity had funneled more than $12 million to Hamas.
Holy Land, closed by authorities in December 2001, was the largest Muslim charity in the country at the time. Prosecutors said that Holy Land and the five defendants laundered money to support Hamas and further its goal of creating an Islamic Palestinian state by eliminating the Israel through violent jihad.
Holy Land was incorporated by Baker, El-Mezain, and Elashi; Abdulqader and Odeh worked as fund raisers.
Prosecutors said Holy Land was the chief fund-raising arm for the Palestine Committee in the United States and was created by the Muslim Brotherhood to support Hamas. According to a wiretap of a Palestine Committee meeting in 1993, Baker spoke about playing down Hamas ties in order to keep raising money in this country. Another wiretapped phone call included Odeh referring to a suicide bombing as “a beautiful operation.”
Evidence was presented indicating several of the defendants have family members who are Hamas leaders, including Hamas’ political chief, Mousa Abu Marzook, who is married to a cousin of Elashi’s. Marzook told The Associated Press that the court’s ruling was within a pattern of politically motivated trials “under different pretexts against all Palestinians on U.S. territory who are committed to their rights to help their Palestinian people.”
“They are clear political trials and have nothing to do with the law,” Marzouk said.
Prosecutors said the defendants followed security procedures that included hiring a security company to search the Holy Land premises for listening devices. They were also accused of ordering Haitham Maghawri, a fugitive, “to take training on advanced methods in detecting wiretaps, shredding documents after board meetings, and maintaining incriminating documents in off-site locations.”
The court reaffirmed a jury’s $12.4 million judgment against all of the defendants who were convicted of money laundering, excluding El-Mezain.
“Today’s sentences mark the culmination of many years of painstaking investigative and prosecutorial work at the federal, state and local levels. All those involved in this landmark case deserve our thanks,” said David Kris, Assistant Attorney General for National Security. “These sentences should serve as a strong warning to anyone who knowingly provides financial support to terrorists under the guise of humanitarian relief.”
The case was prosecuted by acting U.S. Attorney James Jacks.