Established in 1988 (under the name "Occupied Land Fund") by Shukri Abu Baker, Mohammad El-Mezain and Ghassan Elashi, the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) was a non-profit, tax-exempt, charitable trust headquartered in Richardson, Texas. It also maintained branch offices in New Jersey, California, and Illinois. Its name change took place in 1992.
Calling itself America's largest Islamic charity, HLF purported to be a source of help for needy Palestinian Muslims in Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Authority (PA). "Our mission," stated its website, "is to find and implement practical solutions for human suffering through humanitarian programs that impact the lives of the disadvantaged, disinherited, and displaced peoples suffering from man-made and natural disasters." In reality, however, the Foundation was a major financier of the terrorist organization Hamas.
In its earliest days, HLF received a $210,000 cash infusion from Ghassan Elashi’s brother-in-law Musa Abu Marzook, the Hamas senior political leader and Virginia resident who would be deported in 1997 for his involvement in six terror attacks in Israel that killed 47 people. By 1989, HLF had already sent nearly $1 million to Marzook and Hamas co-founder Ahmed Yassin (to the latter through an account called the Islamic Center of Gaza -- another ostensibly charitable entity used by Yassin to finance Hamas activities).
HLF's precursor, the Occupied Land Fund, was named in a May 1991 Muslim Brotherhood document -- titled "An Explanatory Memorandum on the General Strategic Goal for the Group in North America" -- as one of the Brotherhood’s 29 likeminded "organizations of our friends" that shared the common goal of destroying America and turning it into a Muslim nation. These "friends" were identified by the Brotherhood as groups that could help teach Muslims "that their work in America is a kind of grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and 'sabotaging' its miserable house by their hands ... so that ... God's religion [Islam] is made victorious over all other religions."
Also named in the Muslim Brotherhood document were:
Suspicious of its terrorist ties, U.S. federal authorities began monitoring the Holy Land Foundation in 1996. On September 5, 2001, federal anti-terrorism agents raided InfoCom Corporation, the company that ran the HLF website. According to defectors from the conspiracy, the HLF web server was used also by the American Muslims for Jerusalem. the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Islamic Association for Palestine, the Islamic Circle of North America, the Islamic Society of North America, and the Muslim Students’ Association of the U.S. and Canada. As Islam scholar Stephen Schwartz writes, “All these organizations drew from the common financial and technical pool at HLF. All shared a single administrative and technical contact for the maintenance of the web server. They had been erected as political shells around the Hamas hydra-head represented by HLF.” (Support for Hamas had become illegal in 1995 as the result of an executive order by President Bill Clinton and subsequent congressional action.)
On December 4, 2001, the Bush administration seized all HLF assets and records because of its Hamas connections. Said President Bush at the time: “Hamas has obtained much of the money that it pays for murder abroad right here in the United States, money originally raised by the Holy Land Foundation. The Holy Land Foundation ... raised $13 million from people in America last year. … Money raised by the Holy Land Foundation is used by Hamas to support schools and indoctrinate children to grow up into suicide bombers. [It] is also used by Hamas to recruit suicide bombers and to support their families.”
In July 2004, federal authorities arrested five former HLF leaders: Mufid Abdulqader (the half-brother of Hamas's supreme political leader, Khaled Mashal); Shukri Abu Baker (HLF's co-founder and former President and Chief Executive); Ghassan Elashi (HLF's co-founder and former Board Chairman and Treasurer); Mohammed El-Mezain (HLF's co-founder and former Board Chairman); and Abdulraham Odeh (HLF’s former New Jersey representative). In a 42-count indictment, these individuals were charged with providing material support for Hamas terrorists to the tune of $12.4 million over a six-year period, and more than $57 million since the late 1988. Two more ex-officials of HLF, Haitham Maghawri and Akram Mishal, managed to escape U.S. jurisdiction and are considered to be fugitives.
According to the indictment, HLF tried to hide its terrorist-financing activities from American law-enforcement by making a few small contributions to innocuous, non-Palestinian entities while reserving the vast majority of its funds for terrorists. As Shukri Abu Baker told his underlings: “We can give $100,000 to the Islamists and $5,000 to the others.” Another HLF program, masquerading as charitable support for needy families and orphans in Palestinian territories, is said to have channeled money to families whose relatives had been killed or captured while waging jihad; some of them were suicide bombers.
In December 2006, two openly pro-Castro organizations -- the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Humanitarian Law Project -- jointly petitioned a federal judge to dismiss many of the charges brought against HLF.
On July 23, 2007, HLF's leaders went on trial. Seven principal individuals were charged with twelve counts of providing "material support and resources" to a foreign terrorist organization. Additionally, they faced thirteen counts of money laundering and thirteen counts of breaching the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), which prohibits transactions that threaten American national security. Along with the seven named defendants, the government released a list of approximately 300 "unindicted co-conspirators" and "joint venturers."
Among the unindicted co-conspirators were groups such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Hamas, INFOCOM, the Islamic Association for Palestine, the Islamic Society of North America, the Muslim Arab Youth Association, the North American Islamic Trust, and the United Association for Studies and Research. The list also included many individuals affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and/or Hamas. Among these were Mousa Abu Marzook, Omar Ahmad, Abdurahman Alamoudi, Yousef al-Qaradawi, Abdallah Azzam, Jamal Badawi, Mohammad Jaghlit, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, and Ahmed Yassin. Thirty-nine directors, employees and representatives of HLF were also named.
On October 22, 2007, after a two-month trial and nineteen days of jury deliberation, Judge A. Joe Fish declared a mistrial because the jury had been unable to deliver unanimous verdicts and had failed to convict on a single count brought against the defendants.
When the government retried the case a year later, prosecutors made several key adjustments. Most notably, they dropped some counts against particular defendants; they called several new witnesses; and they displayed three exhibits which Israeli military officials had seized from the Palestinian Authority (PA). Those exhibits demonstrated that the PA, like the U.S. government, clearly considered HLF to be a Hamas funder; that an HLF-supported charity committee was fully controlled by Hamas; and that the defendants were well aware that whatever money they were raising in the U.S. was earmarked for Hamas.
On November 24, 2008, the jury convicted five former HLF officials -- Mufid Abdulqader, Shukri Abu-Baker, Ghassan Elashi, Mohamed El-Mezain, and Abdelrahman Odeh -- of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists.