Washington Moving against a shuttered Islamic charity that was once the United States' largest Muslim-American philanthropic group, a federal grand jury in Dallas on Tuesday indicted the Texas-based Holy Land Foundation and its leaders for funneling millions of dollars to the Palestinian group Hamas.
The 42-count indictment accuses the founder and six top officers and fund-raisers of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development of using the charity to "provide financial and material support" for Hamas, the underground Palestinian resistance group the U.S. government says is a terrorist organization. Hamas is accused of scores of suicide bombings in Israel.
Although the criminal charges stop short of alleging direct links between Holy Land and terror attacks against Israeli victims, federal officials said that between 1995 and 2001, the charity aided the resistance group by channeling more than $12.4 million to the families of terrorists and "martyred" suicide bombers and to a social aid network of Palestinian hospitals and schools dominated by Hamas.
The indictments came as the crowning move in a decadelong effort by the Justice Department and Treasury officials to unravel what they have described as Holy Land's secret activities on behalf of Hamas. Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft said the charity's officers "effectively rewarded past and future suicide bombings and terrorist activities on behalf of Hamas."
Holy Land's Palestinian emigre founder Shukri Abu Baker and Holy Land executive director Ghassan Elashi appeared late Tuesday in a Dallas federal courtroom before U.S. Magistrate Paul Stickney, who ordered them held in custody for at least three days. Ashcroft said two other Holy Land figures, Haitham Maghawri and Akram Mishal, were fugitives on the run outside the United States.
The charges leveled against the charity and Baker, Elashi, Mohammad El-Mezain, Maghwari, Mishal, Mufid Abdulqader and Abdulraham Odeh include providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization, conspiracy, tax evasion and money laundering. Elashi, who headed a computer and Web hosting company, was convicted last month in Dallas in a related case for illegally shipping computers to Libya and other nations Ashcroft described as "state sponsors of terrorism."