Backgrounder: The Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development


Introduction

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.



Connections to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas

Documents and evidence released during the Holy Land Foundation (HLF) trial showed that the charity was part of an apparatus set up in the U.S. to support efforts by the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas.

HLF was part of the Palestine Committee, an organizational structure that operated in the U.S. in support of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Muslim Brotherhood's Palestinian offshoot, Hamas. The Palestine Committee included the United Association for Studies and Research (UASR) and the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP), both Hamas-linked anti-Semitic propaganda organizations.

The UASR, a Virginia based think tank, was founded by Hamas leader Musa Abu Marzuq. In 2006 UASR's director, Ahmed Yousef, became personal adviser to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and a Hamas spokesman in Gaza. The IAP, described by the U.S. government as part of "Hamas' propaganda apparatus," distributed official Hamas communiqués and the Hamas Charter.

HLF operated as a non-profit 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charity organization. It was founded in 1987 in Los Angeles, California, as the Occupied Land Fund (OLF) by its President and CEO, Shukri Abu-Baker. In 1991, it changed its name to HLF, and it moved to Richardson, Texas in 1993.

Below are some examples of how HLF supported Hamas:

  • In 1997, Israel banned the Jerusalem-based HLF as a Hamas front group. That year, Israel raided the group's headquarters and seized documents that allegedly linked the Jerusalem office with the HLF in the U.S. Israel security also arrested the Jerusalem HLF's director, Mohamed Anati, for purportedly distributing monthly stipends to families of Hamas suicide bombers. During the HLF trial, the government exhibited a document from 1994 that was signed by Abu-Baker and Anati recognizing HLF Jerusalem as the "sole agency in the West Bank and Jerusalem" of the Richardson-based charity.


  • In October 1993, several representatives of HLF and IAP attended a meeting in meeting in Philadelphia of the Palestine Committee, which was set up by the Muslim Brotherhood to support Hamas, according to evidence presented during the trial. Those present discussed supporting Hamas in the United States through fundraising and political activity, and countering the Israeli-Palestinian peace accords.


  • A March 1993 HLF Ramadan appeal pledge card declared, "Yes. I can and want to help needy families of Palestinian martyrs, prisoners and deportees."


  • An October 1992 IAP memo, which was submitted as evidence in the HLF trial, described the history of the Muslim Brotherhood's involvement in Palestinian politics. It mentioned the founding of IAP and HLF (OLF in the document), as well as the launching of Hamas. It also listed resolutions reached by the Muslim Brotherhood movement, including "supporting the continuation of the intifada," and "the completion of formation of Palestine committees… publicizing and focusing on the savagery of the Jews in Palestine." According to the document, IAP and HLF were part of "a Palestine Committee" formed in consultation between U.S.-based activists and the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood, and were part of a structure that functioned to support Hamas, the movement's "tool and striking wing."


  • According to IRS records, more than 10% of HLF funds in 1992 came from Hamas leader Musa Abu Marzuq.


  • A 1992 letter from the Islamic Relief Committee, one of the Palestinian entities that received money from HLF, was found at the home of Ismail Elbarrase, an unindicted co-conspirator in the case. That letter praised the killing of Jews and asked for support, including weapons, for the mujahideen. The letter, one of the documents presented by the prosecution during the trial, stated:

"You do not know how happy people become when they watch those Mujahideen and how proud they feel when they parade in their uniforms and weapons and the extent of their honor when they carry out their Jihadist operations against the Jews and their tentacles…. Jihad in Palestine is different from any Jihad; the meaning of killing a Jew for the liberation of Palestine cannot be compared to any Jihad on earth…provide us with what helps us of funds and weapons. Weapons, weapons, our brothers."

  • A document dated May 1992 that was authored by Mohamed Akram (Adlouni), which was presented as evidence during the HLF trial, detailed the efforts and goals of the Muslim Brotherhood in the U.S., which the document described as a "Civilization-Jihadist Process." The document, titled "An Explanatory Memorandum on the General Strategic Goal for the Brotherhood in North America," listed OLF, IAP and UASR, along with national Muslim organizations such as the Islamic Society of North America and Islamic Circle of North America, under "a list of our organizations and organizations of our friends." Akram served on the UASR board of directors.


  • A March 1991 IAP fundraising letter urged supporters to send funds to the OLF to support the Intifada.


  • In November 1990, IAP and OLF organized a fund-raising dinner at Culver City, California, under the name "Intifada." The Arabic flyer advertising event included a drawing of a wall covered with graffiti and signed "Hamas." One of the writings said: "The Jihad is the way and there are no alternatives to it." The invitation noted that the event was being held "for the start of the fourth year of the Intifada and in commemoration of the launching of Hamas."


  • In 1989, at an IAP and OLF-sponsored event, a masked man reportedly took the stage to praise Hamas, describing the "oceans of blood" it would bring on the Israelis. He also thanked the two organizations, singling them for being early allies of Hamas. Other speakers praised Hamas, and a Hamas banner draped the table from which they spoke, according to a newspaper report.


  • An OLF 1988 fundraising letter stated, "Is it not out of honesty and sincerity that we all be brothers to the martyr's widow? Should we not stand by her and compensate her children for what they lost by their father's martyrdom?" The letter also informed supporters that "Muhammad Siyyam…who visited North America [has] supported the (OLF)." Siyyam is a Hamas leader. The letter said that the OLF is sponsored by IAP.


Indicted HLF Leaders

On November 24, 2008, the Holy Land Foundation (HLF) and five of its founders and former fundraisers were convicted of providing material support for Hamas and other related charges. Two others named in the indictment were out of the country and did not stand trial. On May 27, 2009, a federal judge in Dallas handed down sentences ranging from 15 to 65 years in prison to five of the former officers of HLF. The following is some background information on all seven:

 

Shukri Abu-Baker: Co-founder, President and Chief Executive Officer. Abu-Baker was found guilty of providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization (Hamas), and of additional counts, including tax fraud and money laundering. He was sentenced to 65 years in prison.

 

  • According to former FBI counterterrorism director Dale L. Watson, "Numerous FBI sources have identified Baker as being a member of Hamas." Abu-Baker was introduced as the "senior vice president in Hamas" at a 1994 Islamic Association of Palestine (IAP) conference in Culver City, California, according to the FBI. IAP is a now-defunct Hamas linked anti-Semitic propaganda organizations.

  • According to evidence used in the trial, Abu-Baker was one of three HLF leaders who attended an October 1993 meeting in Philadelphia of the Palestine Committee, which was set up by the Muslim Brotherhood to support Hamas. Participants discussed fund raising for Hamas and strategy to oppose the Oslo peace accords.

  • At least eleven trips by Hamas leaders to the U.S. were charged to two American Express accounts bearing Baker's name along with HLF's, according to the FBI. (One account used HLF's original name- the Occupied Land Fund.)

  • Abu-Baker's brother, Jamal Abu-Baker, is the Hamas representative in Yemen.

Ghassan Elashi: Co-founder, Chairman and former Executive Director. Elashi was found guilty of providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization (Hamas), and of additional counts, including tax fraud and money laundering. He was sentenced to 65 years in prison.

 

  • According to evidence used in the trial, Elashi attended the October 1993 Palestine Committee meeting in Philadelphia.

  • On October 12, 2006, Elashi was sentenced to more than six years in prison for a separate case involving terrorism-related charges. Elashi committed the offenses through a Richardson-based computer company, InfoCom, which he ran together with several of his brothers who were also convicted for similar charges. Elashi was convicted of 21 counts, including conspiracy, money laundering and dealing in terrorist property, for handling and trying to conceal an investment by senior Hamas leader Musa Abu Marzuq in InfoCom. On July 7 of the previous year Elashi was found guilty of illegally exporting goods to Syria and of money laundering, which was also done through InfoCom.

  • Elashi was one of the founders of IAP.

  • Elashi is related by marriage to Hamas leader Musa Abu Marzuq.

Mohammed el-Mezain: former Chairman, Head of Operations in California, and "Director of Endowments." Mezain was found guilty of conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization (Hamas) and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

 

  • At the 1994 IAP conference in Culver City, el-Mezain stated that funds raised by HLF "were strictly dollars for Hamas," according to former FBI counterterrorism director Dale L. Watson.

  • El-Mezain told the audience at a Los Angeles Islamic conference in late 1994-early 1995 that he had raised $1.8 million for Hamas inside the United States in 1994, according to the FBI. The keynote speaker at the conference, Sheik Muhammed Siyam, was introduced as head of Hamas's military wing. Siyam told the crowd: "Finish off the Israelis. Kill them all. Exterminate them. No peace ever."

  • As chairman of HLF, el-Mezain "undertook a three-week fund-raising trip to Brazil and followed up on HLF activities there," according to the December 1993 issue of HLF's newsletter. (According to a report about terrorism financing prepared for the U.S. Department of Justice, "Ayman Ghotme, who has also been a fundraiser in the Tri-Border Area [of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay] for the Holy Land Foundation" headed a local Hamas cell.)

  • El-Mezain is a cousin of Hamas leader Musa Abu Marzuq.

Mufid Abdulqader: Top fundraiser. Mufid Abdulqader was found guilty of conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization (Hamas) and of conspiracy to commit money laundering. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

 

  • Abdulqader was a project manager with the Dallas Public Works and Transportation Department and oversaw the construction of a neighborhood development project in Oak Hills, Texas, in 2001.

  • Abdulqader is the half brother of Khalid Mishal, a top Hamas leader.

Abdulrahman Odeh: Director of HLF East (New Jersey). Odeh was found guilty of conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization (Hamas) and of conspiracy to commit money laundering. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

 

  • Several media accounts have mentioned that Odeh's office wall was decorated with grisly photos of victims from the 1994 Hebron massacre, in which a radical Jewish settler opened fire in a mosque, killing 29. In a July 2000 interview, Odeh said: "some of the orphans that we are supporting are the children of Hamas martyrs."

Haitham Maghawri: Executive Director and Social Services Coordinator. Maghawri was indicted on several counts of providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization (Hamas), and additional counts, including money laundering.

 

  • Maghawri had fled the U.S. before the government submitted the HLF indictments in July 2004 and was not present at the trial.

  • According to evidence used in the trial, Maghawri attended the October 1993 Palestine Committee meeting in Philadelphia.

  • Maghawri was sent by HLF to bring money to the nearly 400 Hamas activists Israel expelled to south Lebanon in 1992, according to Shukri Abu Baker.

  • As part of a 1990 attempt to gain political asylum in the United States (he claimed he was being persecuted for his religion by Amal, a Shiite militia), Maghawri told the Immigration and Naturalization Service that he had been arrested several times in Lebanon, once for placing a car bomb. His asylum request was denied; he subsequently married a U.S. citizen and obtained permanent residency status.

Akram Mishal: Director of Projects and Grants. Mishal was indicted on several counts of providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization (Hamas), and on additional counts, including money laundering.

 

  • Mishal had fled the U.S. before the government submitted the HLF indictments in July 2004 and was not present at the trial.

  • Mishal is a cousin of Khalid Mishal, a top Hamas leader.


Other HLF-Related Charges

In addition to the seven Holy Land Foundation (HLF) founders and fundraisers charged with providing material support to Hamas, other U.S. residents have also been or are being prosecuted for various charges relating to their affiliation with HLF and their subsequent support for Hamas:  

 

  • Akram Musa Abdallah, a naturalized U.S. citizen of Palestinian origin, was sentenced in March 2010 to 18 months in prison for lying to FBI agents about his involvement in fundraising activities for HLF.  According to court documents, Abdallah helped coordinate fundraising events for HLF in Phoenix between 1994 and 1997.

  • Authorities unsealed an indictment against Mohamad Mustapha Ali Masfaka, HLF's representative in Detroit, for lying to federal agents about his affiliation with the charity.  Federal authorities have alleged that Masfaka, who was arrested in January 2010, organized HLF fundraising events in 1997 and 1998.  Masfaka, a U.S. permanent resident from Syria, also allegedly praised Hamas in songs he sang at various HLF fundraisers. Masfaka pleaded guilty to the charges in October 2010.  

  • HLF's Georgia representative, Mohamed Shorbagi, was sentenced in February 2007 to more than seven and half years in prison for providing aid to Hamas through donations made to HLF.  Shorbagi, a former Georgia Imam and a legal permanent resident from the Palestinian Territories, allegedly attended HLF meetings in which "high level" Hamas officials made presentations condemning Israel, according to the Department of Justice.



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