The leaders of what was once the largest Islamic charity in the United States were found guilty Monday of funneling over $12 million to Palestinian group Hamas, which the U.S. considers a terrorist organization.
In the largest terrorism financing prosecution in American history prosecutors accused the Holy Land Foundation, which closed late in 2001, of using humanitarian aid to promote Hamas and allow it to divert existing funds to militant activities.
Defense attorneys said the charity was a non-political organization which operated legally to get much-needed aid to Palestinians living in squalor under the Israeli occupation and argued that the chief reasons their clients were on trial are family ties.
The defense also argued that the government was caving to Israeli pressure to prosecute the charity and said the case was based on old evidence.
The five men on trial were Shukri Abu Baker, Mohammad el-Mezain, Ghassan Elashi, Mufid Abdulqader and Abdulrahman Odeh. Two others also charged in the case are believed to be in the Middle East and are considered fugitives.
Khaled Meshaal, Hamas' political leader in Syria, is the brother of defendant Abdulqader, a top Holy Land fundraiser and now faces up to 55 years in jail.
Meshaal's deputy, Mousa Abu Marzook, is a cousin of defendant Mezain, a foundation co-founder, and is married to the cousin of defendant Elashi, former Holy Land board chairman.
Mezain faces up to 15 years in prison while Elashi, who is already serving six and a half years for export law violations, faces up to life in prison.
The brother of defendant Abu Baker, Holy Land's former chief executive officer, is Jamal Issa, former Hamas leader in Sudan and its current head in Yemen. Baker, the former chief executive officer of Holy Land, faces up to life in prison.
Odeh, Holy Land's New Jersey representative, faces up to 55 years in jail.
Jurors also found that the defendants owed the government $12.4 million.
Family members could be heard sobbing in the Dallas courtroom as guilty verdicts were read on all 108 charges of providing material support to terrorists, money laundering and tax fraud.
Around 150 supporters gathered outside of the courthouse in downtown Dallas and alleged the government's case was built on fear-mongering and said Holy Land was a legitimate charity, the Dallas Morning News reported.
Elashi's daughter, Noor, said her father was a law-abiding citizen and was being prosecuted because he saved lives.
"My dad was persecuted for his political beliefs and his humanitarian work in Palestine. ... He saved lives and now he's paying the price. I'm very proud of him," the paper quoted Noor as saying.
"It's hard to accept because I don't believe the gentlemen are guilty. These guys are the sweetest, clean-hearted people," John Wolf, a member of support group Hungry for Justice, told the paper, which added Wolf had known the defendants for 12 years.
The Islamic community has said the case highlights the unfair scrutiny that U.S. Muslims have been subjected to since the Sept. 11 attacks and that it criminalizes legitimate charitable activities which are central to the Islamic faith.
My dad was persecuted for his political beliefs and his humanitarian work in Palestine. ... He saved lives and now he's paying the price. I'm very proud of him
The charges included conspiracy to support a foreign terrorist organization, money laundering and tax fraud.
"While we respect the jury's decision, we believe this unjust and un-American verdict will be overturned on appeal," said Khalil Meek a spokesman for the accused said.
"The criminalization of legitimate charitable giving is not just an attack on the American Muslim community; it is an attack on every American who believes in the moral duty to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, and heal the sick," he said in a statement.
Holy Land was one of several Muslim organizations the Bush administration closed in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks for allegedly raising money for overseas Islamic extremists.
The criminalization of legitimate charitable giving is not just an attack on the American Muslim community; it is an attack on every American who believes in the moral duty to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, and heal the sick
Holy Land spokesperson