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Hamas backers are jailed in Texas

Two get 65 years for funneling millions to group

By Danny Robbins
Associated Press / May 28, 2009
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DALLAS - Two founding members of what was once the largest US Muslim charity were each sentenced to 65 years in prison yesterday for funneling millions of dollars to the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Shukri Abu Baker, 50, and Ghassan Elashi, 55, were among the five members of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development sentenced to prison by US District Judge Jorge Solis. The men and Holy Land were convicted in November on 108 charges.

The convictions followed a mistrial in which the government in 2007 failed to sway jurors that the now-defunct charity, based in the Dallas suburb of Richardson, was in fact aiding Hamas.

The two Holy Land leaders were convicted on charges ranging from supporting a terrorist organization to tax fraud. The group wasn't accused of violence but of bankrolling Hamas-controlled schools and programs.

Mufid Abdulqader, 49, was sentenced to 20 years on three conspiracy counts. Mohammad El-Mezain, 55, got 15 years for one count of conspiracy. Abdulrahman Odeh received 15 years for three conspiracy counts.

A judgment of $12.4 million was assessed against four of the defendants because they were convicted of money laundering.

"These sentences should serve as a strong warning to anyone who knowingly provides financial support to terrorists under the guise of humanitarian relief," said David Kris, assistant attorney general for national security, in a statement.

Hamas was designated a terrorist organization by the United States in 1995, making it illegal to offer the group support. Hamas has taken credit for hundreds of suicide bombings targeting Israeli civilians.

As they stood before Solis, the defendants said they only fed the needy and gave aid to a volatile region, reiterating themes they made in mounting their defenses. Sentenced separately throughout the day, the men were both emotional and defiant as they addressed the judge.

"We are five innocent men," Odeh said, adding that the group's function had been "providing charity to all mankind."

Abu Baker said he was involved "because I cared, not at the behest of Hamas." But he was cut off by Solis, who told him: "You didn't tell the whole story. Palestinians were in a desperate situation, but that doesn't justify supporting Hamas."