Four arrested in Texas on terror funding charges
DALLAS, Texas (CNN) -- Four brothers who work for a suburban Dallas computer company made an initial court appearance Wednesday on federal charges related to an alleged financing scheme for the radical Islamic group Hamas.
No pleas were entered during the brief hearing, which came hours after the four were arrested by a federal joint terrorism task force in Dallas and the suburb of Richardson.
All four brothers -- Ghassan Elashi, 49; Bayan Elashi, 47; Basman Elashi, 46; and Hazim Elashi, no age given -- were asked if they had read the indictments against them and understood the charges. Each said, "Yes."
As he was being escorted out of the courtroom, Ghassan Elashi told CNN, "I think we are the victims here."
A 33-count indictment filed Tuesday named the four brothers, another brother already in custody, an Islamic militant leader, his wife, and the computer company, Infocom Corp.
Investigators allege the group engaged in various export violations involving Libya and Syria, laundered money, had illegal dealings with a federally designated terrorist and funneled funds through Infocom.
If convicted, the defendants could be sentenced to maximum penalties of 10 years in prison on illegal export charges, 10 to 20 years for money laundering, 10 years for dealing in the property of a designated terrorist, and five years in prison for making false statements, Attorney General John Ashcroft said.
"The defendants could also be subject to fines of up to $7.2 million," he said at a Washington news conference.
FBI Director Robert Mueller told reporters the investigation "relied upon an array of intelligence and law enforcement initiatives and tools that have characterized our post 9/11 efforts."
Defense attorney Mike Gibson, who is representing the four brothers, said there was "no evidence that I'm aware of that these gentlemen are involved in any kind of terrorist activities."
"At the end of the day, I think it's not quite what you read in the paper or what Mr. Ashcroft said in Washington today," Gibson said.
Gibson said the charges appeared to involve legitimate business transactions.
"So I think we may have a situation where things were sent to the Middle East to a proper country and somehow ended up in a terrorist country, and now they are trying to connect the dots and make it look like we intended to do that," he said.
The fifth brother named in the indictment, Ihsan Elashyi, also known as Sammy Elashyi, had been placed in custody earlier on an unrelated charge.
According to the indictment, Bayan Elashi is Infocom's chief executive officer and the other brothers at one time or another held various management jobs with the firm.
Mousa Abu Marzook, also known as Abu Omar, was the Islamic militant leader indicted. He has already been deported.
According to the indictment, Marzook is an admitted member of Hamas, a Palestinian group designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. State and Treasury departments, and at one time served as chief of the group's political bureau.
Hamas' military wing, Izzedine al Qassam, has admitted launching terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians and military personnel.
Named along with Marzook in the indictment was his wife, Nadia Elashi, also known as Nadia Marzook and Um Omar, whom the indictment identified as a cousin of the five brothers.
According to the indictment, the U.S. Treasury Department in 1995 named Marzook a "specially designated terrorist" because of his association with Hamas. Under federal law, the designation made it illegal for anyone in the country to conduct business with him.
Officials allege the suspects continued to engage in financial transactions with Marzook after the designation. The allegations include trade violations involving Infocom, which deals in Internet technologies.
According to sources, Ghassan Elashi, whom the indictment said is Inforcom's vice president,
also is an official with the Holy Land Foundation, designated by the United States as a financial supporter of terrorist organizations. He has repeatedly denied those charges.
"We are strictly a charitable organization and we have no relation with any terrorist organizations," he said on December 5.
Marzook was said to have made donations to the Holy Land Foundation in the early 1990s, according to a foundation attorney.
The Bush administration froze Holy Land's assets and raided its offices in December 2001 after determining the group was aiding a terrorist organization. Holy Land sued, claiming government officials had not sufficiently proved a link to terrorism and had violated its constitutional rights.
In an order filed last summer, U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler refused Holy Land's request for a temporary injunction to unblock its assets. She also dismissed most of the claims in its lawsuit.
Kessler decided, however, to allow one part of the case to move forward -- the issue of whether a raid in which documents, computers and furniture were seized from Holy Land's offices violated the organization's Fourth Amendment right against unlawful search and seizure. The government did not obtain a warrant for the search.
In its suit, Holy Land maintained that the Office of Foreign Asset Control, an arm of the Treasury Department, acted arbitrarily and capriciously in blocking its assets. The group insists it is a charitable organization aiding Palestinians, not a channel for terrorist funding.
CNN's Kelli Arena, Susan Candiotti and Ed Lavandera contributed to this story.