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Charity In U.S. Convicted Of Supporting Hamas

(RFE/RL) -- The leaders of what was once the largest Muslim charity in the United States have been found guilty of financially supporting the Palestinian militant organization Hamas, which U.S. law defines as a terrorist group.

The five leaders and the charity itself faced a total of 108 charges and were found guilty on all counts by a federal court sitting in Dallas, Texas.

The Texas-based Muslim charity, called the Holy Land Foundation, was convicted of funneling more than $12 million to Hamas, the extremist organization that seized power in the Gaza Strip last year.

The successful prosecution is seen as a late victory in the "war on terror" being waged by the outgoing White House under President George W. Bush.

The U.S. assistant attorney general for national security, Patrick Rowan, called the verdicts "important milestones" in the effort to cut off financing to terrorists. He said the successful prosecution demonstrates U.S. resolve to ensure that humanitarian relief efforts are not used as a mechanism to disguise support for terrorist groups.

Supporters of the charity say they plan to appeal the verdict.

Khalil Meek, a spokesman for the supporters, said the case shows that legitimate charitable activities are being "criminalized." Defense attorneys said the charity was a nonpolitical organization that operated legally to get aid to Palestinians living in difficulties under the Israeli occupation.

Holy Land was one of several Muslim organizations the Bush administration closed in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, accusing them of raising money for overseas Islamic extremists.

In the Dallas trial, the foundation was not accused of directly funding terrorist activity. Instead, it was charged with using humanitarian aid to promote Hamas's standing and allow it to divert its own funds away from social programs and toward militant activities.

Federal prosecutors presented a new, simplified case against the charity after a previous trial collapsed in disarray last year, with the jury unable to reach a verdict. At the first process, some 200 charges were laid, but to avoid confusion at the latest trial, these were cut to just over 100, based on largely the same evidence.

The five men on trial were Shukri Abu Baker, Mohammad El-Mezain, Ghassan Elashi, Mufid Abdulqader, and Abdulrahman Odeh. Two others were also charged in absentia. The top leaders Baker and Elashi face possible life sentences, and the others up to 15 years in prison. Elashi was Holy Land's board chairman, and Baker was its chief executive officer. No date has been set for sentencing.