Two founders of a U.S. Islamic charity will likely spend the remainder of their lives in prison for their role in the largest terrorism financing case in American history, six months after a federal jury found all five men guilty of funneling millions of dollars to the Palestinian group Hamas.
The top volunteer fundraiser and brother of Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal, Mufid Abdulqader, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for three countes of conspiracy.
Last November a grand jury convicted the Holy Land Foundation and five of its leaders for conspiracy to support a foreign terrorist organization, money laundering, tax fraud and other charges.
The group said it focused on legitimate disaster relief and aid to Palestinian refugees.
"I did it because I cared, not at the behest of Hamas," Shukri Abu Baker, 50, told a federal court in Dallas as U.S. District Judge Jorge Solis sentenced him and Ghassan Elashi, 55, to 65 years in prison, the Dallas Morning News reported.
"You didn't tell the whole story. Palestinians were in a desperate situation, but that doesn't justify supporting Hamas," the judge said, according to the newspaper.
Abu Baker, whose brother Jamal Issa is the head of Hamas operations in Yemen, was Holy Land's chief executive officer and the first to be sentenced
Holy Land cofounder Mohamed al-Mezain, who is related to Hamas deputy political leader Mousa Abu Marzook, was sentenced to 15 years in jail.
Two other defendants were sentenced to lesser terms ranging from 15 to 20 years.
"I was acquitted of all charges” in the first trial, said Abdulqader, 49, who was convicted of consiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization; conspiracy to provide funds, goods and services to a specially designated terrorist; and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
“And now I’m facing a long, long prison sentence. I do acknowledge the verdict in this trial. I believe in the system. My faith has not been shaken, it’s been inspired. But it is un-American to ignore suffering and starving women and children."
A jury failed to convict the men on nearly identical charges in 2007, resulting in a mistrial.
This time jurors returned guilty verdicts on 108 charges of providing material support to terrorists, money laundering and tax fraud.
The foundation, based in a Dallas suburb, was one of the biggest Islamic charities in the United States before the government shut it down in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
"These sentences should serve as a strong warning to anyone who knowingly provides financial support to terrorists under the guise of humanitarian relief," David Kris, Assistant Attorney General for National Security, said in a statement.
Muslim charities that remained open reported significant drops in contributions because of fears of prosecution even as juries deadlocked on the Holy Land case and rendered acquittals and convictions of lesser charges in two other high-profile terror financing cases in Florida and Chicago.
The Justice Department vowed in October 2007 to retry the five Holy Land leaders after jurors could not agree on verdicts on nearly 220 charges and a new jury was seated in mid-September.
Prosecutors took about two months to present evidence that Holy Land was created in the late 1980s to gather donations from deep-pocketed American Muslims to support the then-newly formed Hamas movement resisting the Israeli occupation.
This evidence included testimony from an anonymous Israeli government agent, which the defendants that they were not allowed to review. The defense vowed to appeal.
Hamas -- a multi-faceted Islamist political, social and armed movement which controls the Gaza Strip in the Palestinian territories -- was designated a terrorist organization by the United States in 1995 and the trial centered over whether Holy Land continued to support the group after this point.
Prosecutors did not accuse the charity of directly financing or being involved in terrorist activity. Instead, they said humanitarian aid was used to promote Hamas and allow it to divert existing funds to militant activities.
Defense attorneys said the charity was a non-political organization which operated legally to get much-needed aid to Palestinians living in squalor under the Israeli occupation and argued that their clients were on trial chiefly because of their family ties.
But a 1991 “explanatory memorandum” From Mohamed Akram on the strategic goals of the group in North America formed the basis for the government’s case and some of the most inflammatory evidence.
In the document it described the Muslim Brotherhood’s role as a “Civilization-Jihadist Process” in which jihad would aim to destroy and sabotage Western civilization from within so that Islam would become the primary religion.
The defense attorneys dismissed the documents as ramblings of a fringe
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