WASHINGTON -- A major American Muslim charity and seven of its officers were charged yesterday with providing millions of dollars in support to Hamas, a Palestinian terrorist group blamed for dozens of suicide bomber attacks in Israel.
The 42-count indictment, returned by a federal grand jury in Dallas, claims the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development provided more than $12.4 million to individuals and organizations linked to Hamas from 1995 to 2001. The US government froze about $4 million of the charity's assets in December 2001.
The indictment names the foundation along with its president, Shukri Abu Baker; chairman, Ghassan Elashi; executive director, Haitham Maghawri; and four others. The charges include conspiracy, providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization, tax evasion, and money laundering.
Five of the seven defendants were arrested while two of them, Maghawri and Akram Mishal, are not in the United States and are considered to be fugitives, the attorney general said.
''To those who exploit good hearts to secretly fund violence and murder, this prosecution sends a clear message: There is no distinction between those who carry out terrorist attacks and those who knowingly finance terrorist attacks," Attorney General John Ashcroft said at a news conference.
The attorney general said the foundation gave money to the families of Hamas terrorists killed and jailed by Israel.
Tim Evans, Elashi's attorney, did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment yesterday.
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 Muslim charity in the United States, has been shut down since its assets were frozen. 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.