Backgrounder: The Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development
Posted: May 28, 2009
The Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF), once considered the largest Muslim charity in the U.S., has been shut down by the government for funding Hamas.
On May 27, 2009, a federal judge in Dallas handed down sentences ranging from 15 to 65 years in prison to five of the charity's founders and former fundraisers. A federal jury returned guilty verdicts on all 108 counts against the HLF and its five former officers on November 24, 2008. The federal government proved to the jury that the defendants funneled over $12 million to Hamas after the U.S. government had designated it a foreign terrorist organization in 1995.
All five defendants were convicted for providing material support to Hamas. Ghassan Elashi and Shukri Abu-Baker, former HLF chairman and chief executive, were convicted of a combined 69 counts that included charges of tax fraud and money laundering. The other defendants – Mufid Abdulqader, Abdelrahman Odeh and Mohammed El-Mezain – were also convicted on conspiracy charges.
HLF gave money to charity organizations known as zakat committees that operated in the Palestinian territories. Though these were not listed as terrorist entities, Hamas controlled them and the money they collected benefited the terrorist organization's structure. According to the Department of Justice, "HLF intentionally hid its financial support for Hamas behind the guise of charitable donations."
Public records, including documents released by the government during the trial, indicate that HLF was part of an organizational structure that was set up by the radical Muslim Brotherhood to support the Hamas terrorist organization.
HLF was shut down and its assets frozen by the government in December 2001 after it was designated as a charity that provided material and logistical support to Hamas under Executive Orders 13224 and 12947. Subsequent appeals by HLF challenging the freezing of its assets were rejected.
The U.S. Justice Department obtained an indictment against HLF in 2004, accusing the charity and its top leaders of a conspiracy to provide aid to a terrorist organization. The Justice Department contended that HLF provided more than $12 million to individuals and organizations linked to Hamas between 1995 and 2001. In addition, the group reportedly raised a total of $57 million since its incorporation in 1992, but only reported $36.2 million to the IRS.
A first trial ended in a mistrial in October 2007 when the jury failed to come to a unanimous decision on most counts. Prosecutors made significant changes in the second trial, including dropping 29 counts against two of the defendants, Mufid Abdulqader and Abdulrahman Odeh, calling new witnesses, and decreasing the overall amount of evidence presented to the jury to avoid confusion.
During the trial, several Muslim organizations joined together with an anti-war group and other organizations to form a coalition in support of HLF. The coalition, dubbed "Hungry for Justice," included the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Muslim American Society (MAS) and the ANSWER Coalition.