With each passing day the case against the Holy Land Foundation grows stronger and the lines the connections between the HLF and become more clear. The government’s is laying out its evidence in a clear and precise manner (pu-pu as my mom would say). The latest evidence surprised me for a few reasons. I didn’t realize that the foundation paid money directly to the families of the Homicide Bombers as opposed to an intermediary and how security aware the foundation was but at the same time how reckless they could be. The HLF had an entire security guide, where not to make phone calls, how to check for wiretaps etc., and then had a “speakers bureau” comprised of known terrorists.
Most striking was that many of the people involved with Hamas had the last name of Baker. I wonder if they are relatives of the James Baker, former Secretary of State of if they just took the name out of respect for the man whose philosophy they shared.
The Towering Evidence Against the Holy Land Foundation By Nicholas Van Zandt Front PageMagazine.com The trial against the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) is well underway and pressure against the defendants is mounting as the government lays out its case. On Monday, Ghassan Elashi, the only defendant in the case who is not released on his own recognizance due to an earlier conviction, began shouting his frustrations at the court as it was clearing for mid-morning recess. He was escorted out of the courtroom, and the judge, U.S. District Judge Joe Fish, threatened to waive Elashi’s right to sit in on his own trial if disruptions continued. It was reported that this outburst was a combination of frustration because Judge Fish was continuing to allow the government to introduce evidence that was deemed too old or irrelevant which included videos of Hamas rallies found at the offices of various Palestinian charities. These videos were felt to be highly damaging to Elashi’s defense and he felt that because some of them took place before HAMAS was designated as a foreign terrorist organization, they were deemed irrelevant. A reporter from the Dallas Morning News who was present in court reported that another aspect of Elashi’s frustration came from his perception that “this trial is an extension of a Zionist conspiracy.” Following the lunch recess on Monday came the conclusion of the testimony of the Israeli government agent working under the pseudonym “Avi.” This man, who is an attorney for the Israeli Security Agency and an expert on the Hamas social network, continued to testify about the list of charities which were created by Hamas leadership in the 1990s and how they were deliberately connected as part of a regional and worldwide network. As “Avi” stepped down, the government continued to call their witnesses. For the remainder of Monday afternoon, there was a total of three witnesses called to the stand. First up, was the testimony of Dawn Goldberg, an IRS Revenue Agent whose primary duty with the IRS is to investigate tax-exempt organizations in order to ensure they are adhering to the tax code. She testified as to the status of the Holy Land Foundation as well as the Occupied Land Fund, which was the organization that preceded HLF. The purpose of this witness was to establish for the record, the background of the Holy Land Foundation’s financial records as part of their 501(a) tax-exempt charity status. The next witness called was a Dallas Morning News general assignments reporter named Steve McGonigle. He had been reporting on the Holy Land Foundation for several years prior to its closure in 2001. In 1999 he traveled to Israel and the Palestinian territories in order to investigate a connection between the Holy Land Foundation and Hamas. As he arrived at the Gaza Strip crossing point, he met with a Palestinian journalist and interpreter who he referred to as being “a fixer.” This man would show him around and arrange for his interviews with key Hamas leadership. McGonigle held three interviews in his time in Gaza. The first two were with known Hamas leaders, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Mahmud Zahar (unindicted co-conspirators to this case), who both told McGonigle that they knew nothing of the HLF. From there, McGonigle made an unannounced visit to the Holy Land Foundation office in Gaza where he met with Asaad Abu Sharkh and Muhammad Muharam—(unindicted co-conspirators as part of Hamas’ social infrastructure in the Palestinian territories in this case). They discussed the HLF charitable activities throughout the region and, most importantly, how they were in no way involved with Hamas. It would have seemed that McGonigle had reached a dead end. Then, the prosecution played an audio tape which was intercepted on December 2, 1999—the date in which McGonigle was present in Gaza and was speaking with the Gaza HLF office. This conversation took place between Shukri Abu Baker, the HLF CEO in Richardson, Texas, and Mohammad Muharam, the Gaza office director. Muharam had called Baker immediately following McGonigle’s visit to advise him of the situation. They discussed that McGonigle could not be trusted because he was part of the Jewish lobby. Muharam advised Baker that McGonigle wanted to speak to some of the people HLF was helping in Gaza and Baker stressed to Muharam that under no circumstances should he be taken to visit the families of the martyrs or prisoners in Israeli jails who were receiving HLF aid. It was clear that McGonigle’s visit did stir up some tension and, based upon the transcript of this phone conversation, there was something they had to hide. The government’s next witness, Special Agent Robert Miranda of the FBI, was called to the stand. Agent Miranda stated that he is assigned to the counter-terrorism division in Dallas working specifically with Hamas. He has been involved with the Holy Land Foundation case as well as the Infocom case—the case which brought Ghassan Elashi his first conviction and six year sentence in federal prison. The purpose of his testimony was to highlight the links between HLF and Hamas. The first tool he used to do this was with an overseas speakers list entered into evidence as Government Exhibit 1-6. This list, which holds 66 names, are people who were invited by the Holy Land Foundation to the United States to attend conferences, mosques, and forums and to give speeches as a way of raising money for HLF. Some of these speakers would call in through a conference call which would be connected to several dozen Islamic Centers at the same time. In one such conference call, a speaker was recorded as saying, “Muslim people all over the world are standing up with the Palestinian people who stand with Hamas.” Agent Miranda then took this list and cross-referenced it with other articles of evidence compiled. One of the most enlightening examples of evidence was a phonebook belonging to Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzook found at the home of one his former assistants. Nearly 30 names from Marzook’s phonebook matched up with the HLF’s overseas speakers list. Then, a pamphlet from the Islamic Action Front—a Muslim Brotherhood organization in Jordan—that was found in HLF Richardson was discussed. Agent Miranda stated that within this pamphlet was a list of names that were to be chosen as suitable candidates for political office. Nearly a dozen of these Muslim Brotherhood potential candidates were also listed on the Holy Land Foundation’s overseas speakers list. In addition to the speakers who are known Hamas or Muslim Brotherhood officials, members of other designated foreign terrorist organizations like al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya like were on the list. The government then went on to question Agent Miranda about the defendant’s connections with Hamas based on familial relations. From this line of questioning came a number of facsimile transmissions and telephone calls intercepted by FISA that were entered into evidence. These communications were conversations between the defendant, Shukri Abu Baker, and his brother, Jamal Abu Baker, a Hamas leader. Jamal Abu Baker, in a conversation dated August 2, 1998, mentioned to Shukri Abu Baker that it was his belief that HLF should open up a regional office in Gaza and employ full time staff. Not too long after, this office did open up. Then, in December 1999, Jamal spoke to Shukri about opening a bank account for him under the name Abu Issa. He stated that the account should be opened and that he should then provide him with the account number. This interaction, in which the CEO of HLF opened a bank account with a $50 startup deposit for a known Hamas leader, occurred four years after Hamas had been designated as a foreign terrorist organization. Agent Miranda also spoke of the connection with Ghassan Elashi and Marzook. Elashi’s cousin, Nadia Elashi, is the wife of Marzook. Nearly everyday, just outside the courthouse, there is a line of protestors holding up signs reading, “feeding children is not a crime” or—with less frequency—there is a statement from the Council on American Relations—an organization that received $5,000 in seed money from HLF and an unindicted co-conspirator in this case—stating that this trial is nothing more than Islamophobia. They are basing their protests on their belief that this trial is about a charity organization being wrongfully accused and one that had nothing to hide in the first place. The assumption that the HLF had nothing to hide was wholly contradicted by Agent Miranda on Tuesday when Government Exhibit 2-101 was entered into evidence. This document, the HLF operational security directorate, laid out in great detail how the HLF should maintain its internal security. Listed in this document were instructions to: check for listening devices before engaging in meetings; avoid talking about meetings over the phone or by fax; avoid using real names over the phone; agree on a system of encryption for letter writing; exposed individuals are not to contact unexposed persons from home phones but only by public phones; do not carry unnecessary documents, hide them well and establish a pretext for having them if caught; and avoid letting activists in your homes so to not expose our members. The document even prescribed a system of classification for documents depending on their level of sensitivity: general, limited, private, very private. It is unlikely that other charities like the Salvation Army have an OPSEC plan like this one. Special Agent Miranda, who was instrumental in bringing the evidence against HLF together, is set to testify for the remainder of the week assisting the government in their case. This trial, which is set to continue for several more weeks, not only will determine the outcome not only of the defendants Ghassan Elashi, Shukri Abu Baker, Mohammad el-Mezain, Mufid Abdulqader, Khalid Mishal and Abdulraham Odeh, but will also set the framework for further investigations and possible indictments for the many individuals and Muslim organizations that were affiliated with the Holy Land Foundation