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Leaders Of U.S. Muslim Charity Given Stiff Jail Terms

The Holy Land Foundation in Richardson, Texas
(RFE/RL) -- The leaders of what once was the biggest Muslim charity in the United States have been given long prison sentences for channeling millions of dollars to the Palestinian militant organization Hamas.

A Texas court on May 27 sentenced the two top leaders to 65 years in prison, and three others to lesser sentences.

The toughest sentences were given to two founders of the Holy Land Foundation, former chief executive Shukri Abu Baker, and former Chairman Ghassan Elashi.

They were convicted late last year of sending more than $12 million to Hamas, which is a banned terror organization under U.S. law. A total of 108 charges detailed the provision of material support to terrorists, money laundering, and tax fraud.

Three other former officials were sentenced to 15 and 20 years. Most of the defendants have close family ties with senior Hamas figures in Palestine.

The Holy Land Foundation itself was convicted on 32 charges. It was accused of financing schools and social-welfare programs that the U.S. government says are controlled by Hamas.

Prosecutors did not accuse the charity of directly financing or being involved in terror. Instead, they said humanitarian aid was used to promote Hamas and allow it to divert its own funds to militant activities.

Defense lawyers had argued that the charity was a nonpolitical organization that operated legally to get aid to Palestinians living in poverty under Israeli occupation.

The charity's supporters say the prosecution was a politically motivated act of former President George W. Bush's "war on terror" and a prime example of anti-Islamic hysteria in the United States in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

with news agency material