U.S. indicts Islamic charity on terror charges
From Terry Frieden
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A major Islamic charity and seven of its key officials have been indicted on charges of conspiracy and supporting terrorism with millions of dollars, federal officials announced Tuesday.
A federal grand jury in Dallas, Texas, indicted the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development and its leaders. The indictment charged the organization and its officials with disguising efforts to raise more than $12 million dollars over six years to aid terrorism.
"Today a U.S.-based charity that claims to do good works is charged with funding the works of evil," said Attorney General John Ashcroft in announcing the indictments.
Ashcroft and other senior officials said five of the seven indicted persons were arrested early Tuesday in Texas, New Jersey, and California. The two others have been declared fugitives and are believed to be overseas, authorities said.
Federal agents in the Dallas area arrested the foundation's president, Shukri Abu Baker, and chairman, Ghassan Elashi. The two were expected to appear before a federal magistrate in Dallas along with alleged co-conspirator Mufid Abdulqader.
Authorities said another Holy Land Foundation official, Mohammad El-Mazain, was taken into custody in San Diego and a fifth defendant, Abdulraham Odeh, was arrested in Newark, New Jersey.
The two alleged conspirators still at large are Haitham Maghawri and Akram Mishal.
The 42-count indictment alleged the defendants attempted to intentionally mislead federal authorities of their fund-raising efforts on behalf of Hamas from 1995 through 2001.
The Holy Land Foundation, based in the Dallas suburb of Richardson, was virtually shut down by federal authorities who seized the organization's assets in 2002. The FBI accused Holy Land Foundation of operating as a front for Hamas, a Palestinian Islamic fundamentalist organization that the United States and Israel call an international terrorist organization. The group operates an extensive social services network in the Palestinian territories
Within weeks after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the FBI identified the Holy Land Foundation as a prime source of financial support for Hamas terrorists, and said it had provided funds to family members of suicide bombers. The U.S. government froze the charity's assets, an action upheld in court.
In what prosecutors say appears to be a coincidence, lawyers for Holy Land sent a formal complaint against the FBI to the Justice Department inspector general demanding an investigation into the FBI for distorting facts and falsifying evidence. A spokesman for the inspector general Tuesday confirmed receipt of correspondence from the Holy Land Foundation, but declined to comment.
A lawyer for Holy Land Foundation provided to CNN a copy of his letter. In it attorney John Boyd charges the FBI "fabricated a case" against the charity, when it claimed the organization financed suicide bombers.
Investigators said lawyers who issued the complaint may have suspected indictments were coming, but had no knowledge the arrests of the defunct charity's leaders were imminent.
Ashcroft harshly criticized the funds allegedly provided to suicide bomber families.
"The defendants effectively rewarded past -- and encouraged future -- suicide bombings," Ashcroft said.
The attorney general was joined by senior officials from the FBI, Internal Revenue Service, and Department of Homeland Security, as well as the U.S. attorney from Dallas, in announcing the indictments at a Justice Department news conference.