July 29, 2004
DALLAS - A Muslim charity that was shut down after federal authorities accused it of being terrorism's financial arm was charged Tuesday with conspiracy, dealing with terrorists and money laundering.
The Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, its executive director, its chairman and five other men were named in the 42-count federal indictment unsealed Tuesday.
The indictment alleges count or counts of conspiracy, providing support to a foreign terrorist organization, conspiracy to deal in the property of a terrorist and dealing in the property of a specially designated terrorist.
The indictment also alleges money laundering, conspiracy to impede an investigation by the IRS and filing false tax returns.
Attorney General John Ashcroft and senior FBI officials planned a news conference later Tuesday in Washington to discuss details of the indictment.
Among the men charged were Shukri Abu Baker, the foundation's former chief executive, and chairman Ghassan Elashi. Three charges of filing a false tax return applied only to Abu Baker and Elashi.
Tim Evans, Elashi's attorney, did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment Tuesday.
On Monday, the foundation filed a complaint with the inspector general of the Justice Department and asked for an investigation because it claimed the FBI fabricated its case.
Holy Land, which claims to be the largest U.S. Muslim charity, has been shut down since about $4 million of its assets were frozen by the U.S. government in late 2001. Federal courts have repeatedly rejected Holy Land's appeals to get its assets unfrozen, concluding that the government has sufficient evidence linking the charity to terrorism.
The charity has insisted that its money went only for relief to refugees, orphans and disaster victims. In 2000, it raised about $13 million for what charity officials said were schools and social programs in Palestinian-controlled areas and other mainly Islamic nations.
The indictment charges that Holy Land provided financial aid to the militant group Hamas as far back as 1988.
John Boyd, a lawyer for the Holy Land Foundation, said 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," Boyd said.
Israel banned Holy Land from operating within its borders in 1997 and said it funneled money to the families of suicide bombers. Israeli government officials hailed the U.S. move against the group.
Holy Land had close ties to a computer and Internet-hosting company in suburban Dallas that was raided a few days before the terror attacks in September 2001. Agents seized computer hard drives and boxes of documents from the offices of InfoCom Corp. - directly across the street from Holy Land's offices.