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Context of 'December 18, 2002-April 2005: Marzouk, InfoCom, and Holy Land Foundation Leaders Are Charged and Convicted'

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Sheikh Muhammad Al-Hanooti.Sheikh Muhammad Al-Hanooti. [Source: Muslim World League Canada]The FBI secretly records top Hamas leaders meeting in a Philadelphia hotel. Five Hamas leaders meet with three leaders of the Texas-based Holy Land Foundation charity (see 1989), including CEO Shukri Abu Baker and chairman Ghassan Elashi. A peace accord between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) had just been made, and this group meets to decide how to best oppose that. It is decided that “most or almost all of the funds collected [by Holy Land] in the future should be directed to enhance [Hamas] and to weaken the self-rule government” of Palestinian and PLO leader Yasser Arafat. According to an FBI memo released in late 2001 that summarizes the surveillance, “In the United States, they could raise funds, propagate their political goals, affect public opinion and influence decision-making of the US government.” The FBI also learns from the meeting that Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzouk gave Holy Land large sums of cash to get the charity started. Holy Land will eventually grow to become the largest Muslim charity in the US. In a January 1995 public conference also monitored by the FBI, Holy Land CEO Abu Baker will be introduced to the audience as a Hamas senior vice president. One Hamas military leader there will tell the crowd, “I’m going to speak the truth to you. It’s simple. Finish off the Israelis! Kill them all! Exterminate them! No peace ever!” [New York Times, 12/6/2001; Emerson, 2002, pp. 89-90; CBS News, 12/18/2002] Investigators conclude at the time that some of Holy Land’s “key decision makers [are] Hamas members, the foundation [is] the primary US fundraising organ for Hamas, and most of its expenditures [go] to build support for Hamas and its goal of destroying Israel.” [Dallas Morning News, 12/5/2001] Sheikh Muhammad Al-Hanooti is one of the attendees for Hamas. In 1995, he will be listed as an unindicted coconspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993). In the early 1990s, he is the imam at a Jersey City, New Jersey, mosque where at least one of the WTC bombers regularly prays and where al-Qaeda leader Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman often delivers incendiary speeches. An FBI report claims Al-Hanooti raised more than $6 million for Hamas in 1993 alone, funneling much of it through the Holy Land Foundation. As of the end of 2005, Al-Hanooti will still be an imam in the US and will continue to deny all charges against him. [Albany Times-Union, 6/30/2002] Chicago FBI agents Robert Wright and John Vincent try and fail to get a criminal prosecution against the attendees of this meeting. Instead, the attendees will not be charged with criminal activity connected to this meeting until 2002 and 2004 (see December 18, 2002-April 2005). Vincent will comment in 2002 that the arrests made that year could have been made in 1993 instead. One of the Hamas attendees of the meeting, Abdelhaleem Ashqar, will be not arrested until 2004 (see August 20, 2004), and other attendees like Ismail Selim Elbarasse have never been arrested. Elbarasse, a college roommate of Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzouk, will be detained in 2004 on the accusation of working with Marzouk to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for Hamas, but not charged. [Federal News Service, 6/2/2003; Baltimore Sun, 8/26/2004] Oliver “Buck” Revell, head of the Dallas FBI office at the time, will say after 9/11 that the US government should have shut down Holy Land as soon as it determined it was sending money to Hamas (even though raising money for Hamas is not a criminal act in the US until 1995 (see January 1995)). [Associated Press, 12/12/2001]

Entity Tags: Shukri Abu Baker, Ghassan Elashi, Mousa Abu Marzouk, Palestinian Liberation Organization, Hamas, Sheikh Muhammad Al-Hanooti, Yasser Arafat, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert G. Wright, Jr., Oliver (“Buck”) Revell, Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, Abdelhaleem Ashqar, John Vincent, Ismail Selim Elbarasse

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline


Infocom logo.
Infocom logo. [Source: Infocom]The US Joint Terrorism Task Force conducts a three-day raid of the offices of InfoCom Corporation, a Texas-based company that hosts about 500 mostly Arab websites, including Al Jazeera, the Arab world’s most popular news channel. [Guardian, 9/10/2001; Web Host Industry Review, 9/10/2001] Three days after the initial raid, the task force is “still busy inside the building, reportedly copying every hard disc they could find. It is not clear how long these websites remain shut down.” [Guardian, 9/10/2001] InfoCom began to be seriously investigated by the FBI in late 1998 when the name of an employee was discovered in the address book of bin Laden’s former personal secretary. There also was evidence of a financial link between InfoCom and a top Hamas leader (see October 1994-2001). InfoCom is closely connected to the Holy Land Foundation. Not only are the two organizations across the road from each other in Richardson, Texas, a number of employees work at both organizations. For instance, Ghassan Elashi is both the vice president of InfoCom and chairman of Holy Land. [Guardian, 9/10/2001; New York Times, 12/20/2002] A local bank closes Holy Land’s checking accounts totaling about $13 million around the same time as the raid on InfoCom, but Holy Land’s assets are not officially frozen by the government. [Dallas Business Journal, 9/7/2001] The US will shut down Holy Land and freeze their assets two months later (see December 4, 2001) for suspected ties to Hamas. Holy Land is represented by Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, a Washington, D.C., law firm with unusually close ties to the Bush White House. [Washington Post, 12/17/2001] In 2002, the five brothers running InfoCom will be charged of selling computer equipment overseas in violation of anti-terrorism laws and of supporting Hamas by giving money to Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzouk through 2001. In 2004, the five brothers will be convicted of the first charge, and in 2005, three brothers will be convicted of the second charge.(see December 18, 2002-April 2005). On a possibly connected note, in the Garland suburb adjoining Richardson, a fifth-grade boy apparently has foreknowledge of 9/11 (see September 10, 2001). [Houston Chronicle, 9/19/2001]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, InfoCom Corporation, US Secret Service, Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, Osama bin Laden, Ghassan Elashi, Joint Terrorism Task Force, Al Jazeera, Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, Hamas, Mousa Abu Marzouk

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Holy Land Foundation is shut down and its assets are seized. Holy Land claimed to be the largest Muslim charity in the US. It claimed to raise millions for Palestinian refugees and denied any support for terrorism. In justifying the move, the US government presents evidence of ties between the Holy Land and Hamas. Much of this evidence dates back to 1993; the Associated Press titles a story on the closure, “Money Freeze A Long Time Coming.” [Associated Press, 12/5/2001] Holy Land offices in San Diego, California; Paterson, New Jersey; and Bridgeview, Illinois, are also raided. [CNN, 12/4/2001] The indictment says Holy Land has been “deeply involved with a network of Muslim Brotherhood organizations dedicated to furthering the Islamic fundamentalist agenda espoused by Hamas.” [Washington Post, 9/11/2004] Holy Land is represented by the powerful law firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld. Three partners at Akin, Gump are very close to President Bush: George Salem chaired Bush’s 2000 campaign outreach to Arab-Americans; Barnett “Sandy” Kress was appointed by Bush as an “unpaid consultant” on education reform and has an office in the White House; and James Langdon is one of Bush’s closest Texas friends. [Boston Herald, 12/11/2001; Washington Post, 12/17/2001] The leaders of Holy Land will be charged with a variety of crimes in 2002 and 2004 (see December 18, 2002-April 2005).

Entity Tags: Hamas, Muslim Brotherhood, Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, US Department of the Treasury, Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Ghassan Elashi holds a press conference and denies any connection to terrorist funding.Ghassan Elashi holds a press conference and denies any connection to terrorist funding. [Source: Associated Press]Mousa Abu Marzouk, his wife, and five brothers (Ghassan Elashi, Bayan Elashi, Hazim Elashi, Basman Elashi, and Ihsan Elashi) are charged with conspiracy, money laundering, dealing in the property of a designated terrorist, illegal export, and making false statements. The brothers are arrested in Texas, but Marzouk and his wife are living in Syria and remain free. Marzouk is considered a top leader of Hamas. FBI agent Robert Wright had been investigating Marzouk and the brothers since the late 1990s. Wright is set to appear on ABC News on December 19, 2002, to complain that the FBI had failed to prosecute Marzouk for years. As the New York Post notes, “That got results: A day before the show aired, Attorney General Ashcroft announced he would indict Marzouk.” [BBC, 12/18/2002; Associated Press, 12/18/2002; Washington Post, 12/19/2002; New York Post, 7/14/2004] FBI agent John Vincent, who worked closely with Wright, comments, “From within the FBI, [Wright] and I tried to get the FBI to use existing criminal laws to attack the infrastructure of terrorist organizations within the United States, but to no avail. It took an appearance [on television] by [Wright] and I to propel them into making arrests that they could have made as early as 1993.” [Federal News Service, 6/2/2003] ABC News similarly notes, “Marzouk was in US custody in 1997 and under criminal investigation then for much the same crimes cited today.” [ABC News, 12/18/2002] Ghassan Elashi was the vice president of InfoCom Corporation, which was raided on September 5, 2001 (see September 5-8, 2001). He was also chairman of Holy Land Foundation, which was shut down in December 2001. InfoCom and Holy Land were based in the same Texas office park and shared many of the same employees. [Guardian, 9/10/2001; CBS News, 12/18/2002; Associated Press, 12/23/2002] Holy Land raised $13 million in 2000 and claimed to be the largest Muslim charity in the US. The government charges that Hamas members met with Ghassan Elsashi and other Holy Land officials in 1993 to discuss raising money for the families of suicide bombers (see October 1993). Wright had begun an investigation into Holy Land that same year, but he faced obstacles from higher-ups and eventually his investigation was shut down. [CBS News, 12/18/2002; New York Times, 7/28/2004] In 2004, the five Elashi brothers will be convicted of selling computer equipment overseas in violation of anti-terrorism laws. In 2005, three of the brothers, Ghassan, Basman, and Bayan Elashi, will be found guilty of supporting Hamas by giving money to Mazouk through 2001. [BBC, 7/8/2004; Associated Press, 4/13/2005] In July 2004, Ghassan Elashi will be charged again, along with four other former Holy Land officials. Two other Holy Land officials will also charged but not arrested, since they had recently left the country. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) will state: “I wonder why this prosecution has taken so long. I think until recently we have not put the resources needed into tracking groups that finance terrorism, and the fact that they didn’t get 24-hour surveillance on these two who escaped is galling and perplexing.” [New York Times, 7/28/2004] In 2007, this court case will result in a mistrial, and be cast as a major setback for the Justice Department (see October 19, 2007).

Entity Tags: Charles Schumer, Bayan Elashi, Basman Elashi, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ihsan Elashi, Mousa Abu Marzouk, John Ashcroft, Hazim Elashi, Ghassan Elashi, Nadia Elashi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

August 20, 2004: Salah Finally Arrested

Mohammad Salah, Mousa Abu Marzouk, and Abdelhaleem Ashqar are indicted on racketeering conspiracy charges. Salah and Ashqar are arrested. Marzouk, considered a high-ranking Hamas leader, is out of reach in Syria. Marzouk had been charged in 2002 on related matters (see December 18, 2002-April 2005). Ashqar was already under house arrest on related charges of contempt and obstruction of justice. The three are accused of using US bank accounts to launder millions of dollars to support Hamas. The indictment alleges the laundered money was used to pay for murders, kidnappings, assaults, and passport fraud. Many of the charges date to the early 1990s (see 1989-January 1993) and had been the subject of legal cases in 1998 and 2000 (see June 9, 1998; May 12, 2000-December 9, 2004). [New York Times, 8/21/2004; Associated Press, 8/24/2004] Salah and Ashqar had been living openly in the US for several years. The US had declared Salah a “designated global terrorist” in 1995 and he returned to Chicago in 1997 (see February 1995). The media reported on this in 2003 but they still were not arrested (see June 2-5, 2003). In 1993, Ashqar took part in a secret Hamas meeting in Philadelphia that was wiretapped by the FBI (see October 1993). [ABC News, 6/12/2003; New York Times, 8/21/2004]

Entity Tags: Mohammad Salah, Abdelhaleem Ashqar, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Hamas, Mousa Abu Marzouk

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In a setback for the Justice Department, a mistrial is declared in the government’s attempted prosecution of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (see 1989), a now-defunct Muslim charity that the government accused of sponsoring terrorism back in 2001. The mistrial was not the first verdict sent down; the judge originally announced a near-complete acquittal of Holy Land’s top officials on terrorist financing charges. However, three jurors stated in court that the verdict was incorrect, the judge sent the jury back into chambers for further deliberations. A mistrial of four Holy Land officials is declared after the jury declares itself locked, and a fifth official is declared innocent of all but one charge, where the jury again finds itself unable to render a verdict. The mistrials and acquittals are a blow to the Justice Department and the White House, both of which have billed the prosecution of Holy Land as the best efforts in years to secure a clear victory against terrorism. “It’s a major loss for the government,” says law professor Jonathan Turley, who has himself represented alleged terrorist financiers against the Justice Department. The case was never as solid as it was presented by government officials. In 2001, after Holy Land was declared a terrorist sponsor by the Bush administration and its funds were frozen (see February 19, 2000 and December 4, 2001), civil libertarians called the government’s definition of sponsorship of terrorism overly broad, and Holy Land fought back in court. In 2004, the government indicted Holy Land and its top leaders, leveling accusations that the charity and its officials had funnelled $12 million to the terrorist group Hamas through secondary charities (see October 1994-2001, May 12, 2000-December 9, 2004 and December 18, 2002-April 2005). A summary of wiretapped conversations between charity officials contained inflammatory anti-Semitic statements, which bolstered the government’s case in the public eye, but when the actual transcripts were examined, no such anti-Semitic statements could be found. And the government’s strategy of adding a long list of “unindicted co-conspirators” to its allegations against Holy Land, a list which includes many prominent Muslim organizations still legally operating inside the US, has caused many to accuse the government of conducting a smear campaign (see December 3-14, 2001 and August 21, 2004). While the Justice Department may well retry the case, the verdict, which seems to favor the defendants, “doesn’t bode well for the government’s prosecution” of this and other similar cases, says export controls lawyer Judith Lee. [US News and World Report, 10/22/2007]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Jonathan Turley, Hamas, Judith Lee, Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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