May 29, 2009

US charity leaders jailed for aiding Hamas

by David Masters

A US court has given the former leaders of a Muslim charity, lengthy prison sentences for providing aid to Palestinian group Hamas.

The longest sentences were given to Shukri Abu Baker, former chief executive of the Holy Land Foundation, and Ghassan Elashi, the charity’s former chairman.

Both were jailed for 65 years by the Dallas court, effectively life sentences.

The three other defendants, including the foundation’s co-founder, Mohamaed El-Mezain, were sentenced to between 15 and 20 years.

The court found all five defendants guilty of conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organisation, and all but one of the defendants was also convicted of money laundering.

Prosecutors said the charity was funding the spread of Hamas’s ideology by providing the group with money to build schools and hospitals and develop social welfare programmes in the Palestinian territories.

Funds raised by the foundation were also permitted to support the activities of Hamas militants.

The defendants maintain that the foundation’s main aim was to support struggling citizens in the Palestinian territories.

“I did it because I cared, not at the behest of Hamas,” Abu-Baker said.

Abdulqader, the foundation’s fundraiser, said he continues to believe in the US justice system despite the verdict.

“I do acknowledge the verdict in this trial,” Abdulqader said when his 20 year prison sentence was read out.

“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.”

The Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development was America’s largest Muslim charity until it was shut down in 2001 after federal investigators discovered that funds raised by the organisation were being used to support Hamas.

Between 1995, when the Clinton administration designated Hamas as a terrorist organisation, and 2001, the foundation funneled $12 million (£7.4 million) to the group.

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