US ' Holy Land' Hamas Funders' Appeal Denied in Texas Court
Five Holy Land Foundation organizers this week lost their appeal of a 2008 conviction on charges of financially supporting the Hamas terrorist group.
Former Holy Land Foundation chairman Ghassan Elashi, and CEO Shukri Au Baker were convicted of supporting a specially designated terrorist organization, money laundering and tax fraud. Each was sentenced to 65 years in prison, essentially a life sentence.
Mufid Abdulqader and Abdulrahman Odeh were each convicted of three counts of conspiracy, and Mohammed El-Mezain was convicted of one count of conspiracy to support a terrorist organization. Abdulqader received a sentence of 20 years in prison, and his two co-defendants were each sentenced to 15 years.
The Texas-based Holy Land Foundation itself was charged and convicted on all 32 counts, according to the Star-Telegram newspaper.
In handing down the decision, the three-judge panel in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that U.S. District Judge Jorge Solis had not erred in allowing certain testimony that had led to the convictions. Organization members claimed the trial was unfair, and said anonymous Israeli witnesses had incriminated them in an unconstitutional manner.
But Solis was not wrong to allow authorities to protect the identities of the two Israeli witnesses, and to deny the defendants access to a number of their own statements, recorded secretly, wrote Judge Carolyn King in the unanimous decision.
"No trial is perfect," ruled the court, citing "voluminous" evidence that linked the defendants to the activities of the Hamas terrorist organization.
Organizers claimed the millions of dollars raised by the foundation went to charities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza known as "zakat committees" set up to carry out legitimate social services. However, the court found that those committees were Hamas social institutions, carrying out Hamas activities.
It is a violation of U.S. law to provide material aid and support to Hamas, which in 1995 was designated a terrorist organization in an executive order signed by then-U.S. President Bill Clinton.
The administration of former U.S. President George W. Bush closed the organization -- considered at the time to be the largest Islamic charity organization in the United States -- after the terrorist attack carried out by the international Al Qaeda organization that destroyed New York City's World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Al Qaeda has a branch in Hamas-ruled Gaza.
Gregory Westfall, attorney for Odeh, claimed the "confrontation clause of the U.S. Constitution basically didn't apply to these [Israeli] experts." He added that it appeared his client would take an appeal all the way to the Supreme Court.