Terrorism,  UK Politics

A Long Way From Texas

In the 1990s the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) was one of America’s biggest Islamic charities. It also came to the attention of the FBI for suspected links with the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas.

HLF did have a good run, managing to raise over $12 million in the US for Hamas. However, federal interest only increased in line with the group’s fortunes.

HLF sensed the pursuit and tried to conceal the truth about its operations, but in the end it was not successful. In December 2001 the government shut the Texas-based charity down.

Eventually five of its key officials were brought to justice in Dallas. In November 2008 they were convicted of providing material support to Hamas.

Last week the five were given long sentences. Two HLF founders – Ghassan Elashi and Shukri Abu Baker – were sent down for 65 years. Mohammad El-Mezain, another founder, was given 15 years. Two HLF fundraisers – Mufid Abdulqader and Abdulrahman Odeh – were given 20 and 15 years, respectively.

The three founders were defiant right up to the sentencing hearing:

Ghassan Elashi:
“The [Israeli] occupation was providing them with death and destruction. The Holy Land Foundation was to assist the Palestinians in their steadfastness against the brutal apartheid regime. I would like to declare my innocence of all the charges”

Mohammad El-Mezain:
Mohammad El-Mezain, former Holy Land endowments director and a Muslim prayer leader who delivered fiery speeches on confiscated videotapes in the case, spoke passionately about his devotion to charity, which he said was “more important to me than any political agenda.” “We did it all in the name of America,” said El-Mezain, who received 15 years. “The Holy Land Foundation was no different than any other Jewish or Baptist charity.”

Abu Baker:
When he spoke, Abu Baker told the judge, “It’s easy to demonize your opponent,” and asserted that his HLF charity efforts were intended to provide aid to Palestinian children in his appreciation of medical help his daughter had received in the United States. “It was not rage against Israel,” Abu Baker said.

Prosecutor James Jacks was having none of this, nor was Judge Jorge Solis:

“There’s been no acknowledgment by any of these defendants regarding their connection to Hamas,” Jacks said. “They haven’t been deterred. Their entire sentencing presentation is they’re being punished for providing charity. It’s important for the court to impose a sentence that says this is not a case about punishing people for doing nice things.”

“Your function in life was raising money to support Hamas,” U.S. District Judge Jorge Solis told one of them in words that were repeated in some fashion as each defendant learned his fate. “You stated it was to help people, but the motive was to support Hamas,” the judge said. “You state that you are innocent, but the evidence shows the opposite.”

“You did support Hamas in violation of the law,” Solis told Elashi. “If the Holy Land Foundation did have a face, it was the face of Hamas.”

This video captures the depravity of the HLF circle. It shows a skit performed by Mufid Abdulqader, one of the convicted HLF officials, at a conference of the now defunct Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP). Children were in the audience. It opens this way:

Mufid: I am Hamas, O dear ones. And I am Hamas, O dear ones. In midst of fire, they throw me. And I am Hamas, O dear ones. In midst of fire, they throw me. I swear to wipe out the name of the Zionist. And protect my land, Palestine. And you must get out,
Audience: O cursed one.
Mufid: And you must leave,
Audience: O cursed one.
Mufid: And I protect my land,
Audience: Palestine.

Abdulqader then taunts and finally shoots a Jewish Zionist. The full transcript is available here (pdf). Cute, eh?

Here is another video of a US meeting of the IAP in 1989. Oh, happy days!

The UK is a very long way from Texas. Anyone involved in fundraising for Hamas here need not worry much. As far as I know, no one has been prosecuted for this crime since Hamas was proscribed by the EU back in 2003. Moreover, the Charity Commission is the lead regulator, and its counter-terrorist record is poor.

The latest from the commission is an announcement that it opened an investigation into “Iqra” in late April 2009. This charity’s trustees included two of the 7/7 bombers, Mohammed Siddique Khan and Shezad Tanweer, and friends of the bombers Khalid Kaliq, who was convicted of possessing an al Qaeda manual in March 2008, and Waheed Ali, who was found guilty this April of plotting to attend a terrorist training camp in Pakistan.

Iqra ran a radical Islamic bookshop in Beeston, Leeds. Its role in the 7/7 plot became public knowledge within weeks of the attacks in 2005 and was reported in the media at the time.

Today the only listed Iqra trustee is Tafazal Mohammad. According to Shiv Malik’s profile of Mohammed Siddique Khan in Prospect, published in June 2007, Mohammad was one of the bomber’s close associates.

The commission’s own records show that Iqra never bothered to file required documentation.

Opening an investigation of the Iqra story at this stage seems absurd. If it is only a formality, it is one that should have been completed long ago. If instead the enquiry will tax scare resources at the commission, never mind closing stable doors, this is like fetching a pail of water after the whole farm has burned down.

Meanwhile the commission’s new “Faith & Social Cohesion” unit is working its way through a £1.2 million grant from the Department for Communities and Local Government. A campaign to encourage mosques to register as charities has been its main focus. However, according to the unit’s first annual report, the reception can be hostile:

Challenges due to the current media interest and national security situation resulted in poor attendance at the workshops held in Accrington, Burnley and Preston in February 2009. The main reason cited by the local partners was that some days before our scheduled workshops, Lancashire/Manchester counter terrorism Police carried out raids in Burnley and surrounding areas. These re-heightened apathy, resentment and suspicion amongst the local Muslim communities regarding government based activities. Subsequently, on advice from our local partners, we cancelled the other workshops planned in the region out of concern for safety of Outreach Officers and risk to Unit’s reputation.

“Concern for safety” of officers? Perceived association with legitimate counterterrorist operations is a “risk to Unit’s reputation”? Oh my.

Backing down in the face of this kind of Islamist pressure is weak and pernicious. It is also quite remarkable in this case, since the arrests the report refers to were of “Viva Palestina” convoy participants. The convoy escapade ended with a celebration of Hamas, shown below, and Viva Palestina is now under investigation by the commission itself.

Well, some of us are riled by terrorists abusing charity. Will we get our own special “outreach” unit at the commission?