A Muslim charity and seven of its senior leaders were charged today with conspiracy, dealing with terrorists and money laundering — almost three years after the federal government shut down the Texas-based organization, alleging it was a front for the terrorist group Hamas.
A federal grand jury in Dallas unsealed the 42-count indictment against the organization, the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, alleging that it provided more than $12 million to fund Hamas terrorist operations from 1995 to 2001.
"Today, a U.S.-based charity that claims to do good work is charged with funding the works of evil," said U.S. Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft at a press conference.
The indictment alleges that the Holy Land Foundation, established in 1989, secretly aided Hamas by funneling donations to Palestinian schools, hospitals and other aid programs tied to the resistance group and to families of suicide bombers.
"The indictment alleges that the Holy Land Foundation intentionally cloaked its support for Hamas behind a mantle of charitable activities knowing and intending that such assistance would support Hamas' terrorist activities," Ashcroft said.
Five of the organization's officials were arrested this morning, and two others, who are not in the United States, are considered fugitives, Ashcroft said. After the morning's arrests, the indictment was unsealed.
John Boyd, a lawyer for the Holy Land Foundation, told the Associated Press that he had not seen the indictment and could not comment in detail. However, he questioned the use of old transactions in the indictment.
"If these are related to transactions in '88 and '89, that is six years before Hamas committed its first terrorist acts and seven years before Hamas was declared a terrorist organization," he told the AP.
Hamas was classified as a terrorist group by President Clinton in 1997. The move made funding any Hamas entity a crime.
President Bush froze Holy Land's assets and designated the charity a terrorist group three months after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks as part of his first official response to the mass deaths in New York, at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania. Donations "raised by the Holy Land Foundation," Bush said, gave Hamas "much of the money that it pays for murder abroad."
The 42 counts include charges against the foundation, its president, Shukri Abu Baker; chairman, Ghassan Elashi; executive director, Haitham Maghwari and four others. The charges include 12 counts of violating the prohibition of providing material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization; 13 counts of violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which prohibits transactions that threaten national security; 13 counts of money laundering; and four counts of tax violations for filing false charitable tax returns. The maximum penalties range from five to 15 years for each count.
Ashcroft said that the charges against the foundation and the seven men were "neither a reflection on the well-meaning people who may have donated money to the organization nor a reflection on the Muslim faith and its adherents."
Times staff writer Stephen Braun contributed to this report.