Israel helped U.S. probe of major Muslim foundation

Friday, July 30, 2004

FBI agents began arresting several officers of a major U.S. Islamic foundation on July 27, in the culmination of an investigation that U.S. government sources said was aided by Israel.

The sources said Israel provided the FBI and the Justice Department with records that traced the flow of funds from the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development to Hamas operatives in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

A U.S. federal grand jury issued a 42-count indictment that accused Holy Land founder and six leading officers and fundraisers with funneling $12.4 million to Hamas, deemed a terrorist organization by the State Department.

The sources said the documents included those captured by Israel's military from Hamas and Palestinian Authority facilities in 2002 and 2003.

Until 2002, the foundation was regarded as the leading Islamic charity in the United States. In late 2001, President George Bush froze the assets of Holy Land in wake of the Al Qaida suicide attacks on New York and Washington.

"They had rewarded past and future suicide bombings and terrorist activities on behalf of Hamas," Attorney General John Ashcroft said.

On July 27, FBI agents arrested Holy Land founder Shukri Abu Baker and other former executives in raids around Dallas, Texas. Mohammed El-Mezain, the foundation's director of endowments, was arrested near his home in the San Diego suburb of Scripps Ranch. Two others charged Haitham Maghawri and Akram Mishal were said to have fled the United States.

Abu Baker was said to have been an agent for Mussa Abu Marzouk, a member of Hamas's Political Bureau and now based in Damascus. In 1992, Abu Marzouk helped launch Holy Land with $200,000.

FBI executive assistant director for counterterrorism John Pistole did not cite Israeli help. But he said federal authorities obtained "critical assistance from our foreign allies and partners" in the investigation of the Holy Land Foundation.

The government sources said Israel has made significant strides in understanding the money flow to Hamas and other Palestinian insurgency groups. They said a milestone was the Israeli military raid of the Arab Bank in Ramallah in February 2004 in which Israeli security officers seized documents on thousands of accounts, including those aligned with Hamas.

The federal indictment asserted that Abu Baker and other Holy Land executives transferred hundreds of thousands of dollars from the charity's accounts in Texas to Hamas loyalists in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The indictment said the money flow used to pay operatives, inmates in Israeli prisons and the families of Hamas suicide bombers began in the 1990s and continued until the foundation's assets were frozen.

"In some cases, the defendants allegedly targeted financial aid specifically for families related to well-known Hamas terrorists who had been killed or jailed by the Israelis," the Justice Department said. "In this manner, the defendants effectively rewarded past, and encouraged future, suicide bombings and terrorist activities on behalf of Hamas."

The government sources said Israeli efforts against Palestinian insurgency financing began in 2002 after a military campaign in the West Bank turned up hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Authority and other documents that reported payments to Fatah and other operatives. The sources said Israeli authorities were urged by the United States to invest greater efforts in examining the money flow, particularly from foreign sources.

"In Israel we have over the last few years very much upgraded the way we track and deal with money transfers," Israeli embassy in Washington spokesman Mark Regev said.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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