In a major terrorism case, a federal jury in Dallas failed to come to a unanimous decision on most counts on the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) terrorism-financing trial.
The federal government accused HLF, a Richardson, Texas-based Muslim charity and five organizers, of funneling over $12 million to individuals and organizations linked to Hamas, designated a U.S. foreign terrorist organization in 1995. After 19 days of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict on October 18, 2007. The verdict sealed for four days until the judge returned to Dallas was read on October 22, 2007, and the judge declared a mistrial because the jury was deadlocked on most counts.
The jury was able to come to a unanimous decision on one defendant, Mohammad El-Mezain, the original chairman and endowments director of HLF, who was acquitted on 31 out of 32 counts. The jury deadlocked on one count of conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization (Hamas).
Two other defendants - Mufid Abdulqader and Abdulrahman Odeh were originally acquitted on all and most charges respectively, but after the judge reportedly polled the jury, three jury members disagreed with the verdicts.
The judge reportedly ordered the jury to reconvene to discuss the verdict, but after less than an hour 11 of the 12 jurors agreed that they would be unable to reach a unanimous decision.
The government has alleged that HLF and its top leaders Shukri Abu Baker, Ghassan Elashi, Mohammed El-Mezain, Mufid Abdulqater and Abdulrahman Odeh conspired to provide aid to a terrorist organization and the families of suicide terrorists. The indictment also charged that HLF provided more than $12.4 million to individuals and organizations linked to Hamas between 1995 and 2001. The group allegedly raised a total of $57 million since its incorporation in 1992 but only reported $36.2 million to the IRS, according to the indictment.
During the three-month trial, the government introduced hundreds of documents into evidence and called ten witnesses, including a secret agent for the Israeli Defense Forces, who reportedly testified that HLF supported charities controlled by Hamas. The defense called five witnesses to court, including Edward Abington, former U.S. consul general in Jerusalem and State Department intelligence officer. On August 20, 2007, after the jury and judge left the courtroom for a break, defendant Elashi yelled out, "This trial is an extension of a Zionist conspiracy."
After the judge declared a mistrial, Khalil Meek, the head of Hungry for Justice (HFJ) coalition declared that this was an Israeli trial tried on American soil. HFJ a coalition of several major Muslim and left-wing organizations dedicated to supporting the Holy Land Foundation issued a press release following the trial stating, The charges brought against these individuals were viewed by many people in this country and worldwide as an attempt to block humanitarian assistance to Palestinians suffering under a brutal Israeli occupation.
HLF was founded in 1987 in Los Angeles, California as the Occupied Land Fund to raise funds for Muslim families left homeless and poor by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to defense lawyers. In 1991, it changed its name to HLF, and it moved its headquarters to Richardson, Texas in 1993. HLF, which operated as a non-profit 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charity organization, also ran several offices in California, Illinois, and New Jersey.
On December 4, 2001, President Bush announced that the FBI and the Treasury Department had moved to seize the assets of the HLF. The action was said to be a part of the administration's policy designed to choke off financial support in the war on global terrorism.
The Justice Department has said that it will retry the case on deadlocked counts.