US charity guilty of funding terror

Last updated 14:57 25/11/2008

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A US Muslim charity and five of its ex-leaders have been convicted in the largest terrorism financing trial since the 9/11 attacks.

A federal jury in Dallas found the Islamic charity and five men linked to it guilty on all charges in a lengthy case linked to the funneling of over $US12 million ($NZ22.4 million) to the Palestinian group Hamas, which the United States considers a terrorist organisation.

The verdict, delivered on the eighth day of deliberations, capped a grueling process that included a messy mistrial last year on most of the charges that led to the retrial, underscoring the difficulty of securing convictions in such cases.

The Holy Land Foundation was one of the biggest Islamic charities in the United States before its closure late in 2001 and said then that it focused on disaster relief and aid to Palestinian refugees.

Prosecutors said money was funneled to the militant group Hamas, which seized Gaza last year after routing the forces of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and is pushing for an independent Palestinian state.

"Today's verdicts are important milestones in America's efforts against financiers of terrorism," Patrick Rowan, Assistant Attorney General for National Security, said in a statement.

The accused signaled through a spokesman that they would appeal the verdicts which could see at least two of them face life in prison. Local media reported that no sentencing date had been set yet.

"While we respect the jury's decision, we believe this unjust and un-American verdict will be overturned on appeal," said Khalil Meek, a spokesman with Hungry for Justice, a support group for the accused.

"The criminalisation of legitimate charitable giving is not just an attack on the American Muslim community; it is an attack on every American who believes in the moral duty to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, and heal the sick," he said in a statement.

The five men on trial were Shukri Abu Baker, Mohammad El-Mezain, Ghassan Elashi, Mufid Abdulqader and Abdulrahman Odeh. Two others also charged in the case are believed to be in the Middle East and are considered fugitives.

Collectively, the five men and the charity itself faced over 100 counts and guilty verdicts were delivered across the board.

Elashi, who helped found the charity, and Baker, its former head, both face the possibility of life in prison.

The Islamic community has said the case highlights the unfair scrutiny that US Muslims have been subjected to since the Sept. 11 attacks and that it criminalizes legitimate charitable activities which are central to the Islamic faith.

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The charges included conspiracy to support a foreign terrorist organisation, money laundering and tax fraud.

- Reuters

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