Born in 1958, Abdelhaleem Ashqar was educated at the Islamic University of Gaza, where in 1985 he was hired to teach business administration. Soon thereafter he immigrated to the United States to earn a college diploma gratis through the State Department’s USAID program at the University of Mississippi. In 1997 Ashqar moved to northern Virginia, where an intricate network of Islamic terrorist enterprises was situated; Ashqar attributed his move to a desire to be near friends in the area’s Muslim community. Eventually Ashqar became an assistant professor at nearby Howard University, where he worked until 2003. The university chose not to renew his contract in 2004, after allegations surfaced that Ashqar was affiliated with the terrorist group Hamas.
U.S. government investigators determined that in the late 1980s Ashqar had organized the Al Aqsa Educational Fund, a fundraising group for Hamas at the University of Mississippi. Terrorism expert Steve Emerson described this Fund as the “chief fundraising rival to the Holy Land Foundation,” a large pseudo-charity that was closed down by the U.S. government (in December 2001) for raising and laundering money for overseas terrorist groups. District Court Judge Gladys Kesler, an expert on Hamas funding and activities in the United States, described Ashqar as “a senior Hamas activist.”
Ashqar received legal representation from attorney Stanley Cohen, a self-identified supporter of Hamas. On several occasions the FBI offered Ashqar immunity in exchange for his testimony against other Hamas members who stood accused of having participated in serious crimes, including murder. But Ashqar refused to testify against them, and thus was charged with criminal contempt and obstruction of justice.
While awaiting trial on these charges, Ashqar evaded incarceration by posting a $2.6 million bond secured by the properties of friends in the Washington, DC area. He was placed instead under house arrest — his whereabouts tracked at all times by an electronic monitoring device on his ankle — and he was required to file a written motion in federal court whenever he wanted permission to leave his home. Meanwhile, local Muslims raised tens of thousands of dollars for his legal defense.
Notwithstanding his confinement, Ashqar in 2005 declared his candidacy for the office of Palestinian Authority (PA) President. “I’m running as a reformer,” Ashqar said. “I want to see an end to the corruption and monopoly of power in the PA.” His campaign ultimately failed.
In October 2006 Ashqar went on trial in Chicago. He was represented by attorney William B. Moffitt, President of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Prosecutors presented abundant evidence that Ashqar had funneled tens of thousands of dollars for Hamas through his U.S. bank accounts, and that he had served as a liaison between several of the organization’s leaders who could not, for reasons of security, call one another directly. Though Ashqar allegedly had engaged in these activities prior to January 1995 (which was when the U.S. government first designated Hamas as a terrorist group), he was nevertheless charged with “criminal enterprise” under federal racketeering laws because Hamas indisputably was carrying out attacks whose objective was to kill Israelis and, ultimately, to destroy the state of Israel.
Prosecutors stated that in December 1993 some FBI agents had gained access to Ashqar’s apartment and discovered a large number of Hamas-related documents. These included minutes of confidential Hamas meetings; details of recent Hamas attacks against Israeli soldiers; and a fax from Hamas political leader Mousa Abu Marzook instructing Ashqar to transfer $40,000 to the coffers of another Palestinian terrorist.
In 2007 Ashqar was convicted of criminal contempt and obstruction of justice, but was acquitted of having joined in a racketeering conspiracy to aid Hamas. Another defendant who stood trial with Ashqar, Mohammad Salah, was acquitted on the same racketeering charge but was convicted of obstructing justice by making false statements in a civil lawsuit brought by the family of someone who had been victimized in a Hamas attack.
In November 2007 Ashqar was sentenced to eleven years and three months in prison. Yet he had no regrets about having refused to testify against the aforementioned Hamas members, explaining that he “would not live as a traitor or as a collaborator.” In Ashqar’s view, the Israeli “occupation” represents “a form of slavery” for Palestinians.