Prepared Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft
Holy Land Foundation Indictment
July 27, 2004
Good afternoon. Joining me today are:
· FBI Executive Assistant Director for Counterterrorism, John Pistole;
· Michael Garcia, Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement;
· Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, Christopher Wray;
· IRS Chief of Criminal Investigation, Nancy Jardini; and,
· U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas, Richard Roper.
For the past 33 months, the Department of Justice has used every tool within the law to identify, disrupt and dismantle terrorist networks and those organizations that supply the blood money that makes such murderous acts possible.
Today, a U.S.-based charity, that claims to do good works, is charged with funding works of evil.
About two and a half years ago, President Bush announced the terrorist designation of the Texas-based Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development. This designation was based on the foundation's long-standing association with HAMAS, a notorious terrorist organization that engages in violent attacks to intimidate and coerce the government of Israel and its civilian population. Since its inception, HAMAS has claimed responsibility for numerous acts of terror that have taken the lives of hundreds of individuals, including several American citizens. Suicide bombings perpetrated against innocent civilians are the group's trademark.
Yesterday, a federal grand jury in Dallas returned a sealed 42-count indictment against the Holy Land Foundation and seven of its senior leaders for providing and conspiring to provide material support to HAMAS. After arrests this morning, the indictment was unsealed.
Charged in this indictment are:
· Shukri Abu Baker;
· Mohammed El-Mezain;
· Ghassan Elashi;
· Haitham Maghawri;
· Akram Mishal;
· Mufid Abdulqater; and
· Abdulraham Odeh.
This morning, defendants Baker, El-Mezain, Elashi, Abdulqater and Odeh were arrested. In a separate case, Elashi was convicted last month in federal court for illegally shipping computers to state sponsors of terrorism. Maghawri and Mishal are not in the United States and are now considered to be fugitives from justice.
The defendants are charged with:
· Twelve counts of violating the prohibition on providing "material support and resources" to a foreign terrorist organization. The maximum penalty for each count is 15 years in prison.
· Thirteen counts of violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which prohibits transactions that threaten national security, including transactions with HAMAS. The maximum penalty for each count is 10 years.
· Thirteen counts of money laundering, which carries a maximum per-count penalty of 20 years.
· Baker and Elashi are also charged with four counts of tax violations for filing false charitable tax returns. The maximum penalty is 5 years for each count.
I note that an indictment is an accusation; the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. Also, this indictment is neither a reflection on well-meaning people who donated funds to the foundation, nor the Muslim faith and its adherents.
The indictment alleges that the Holy Land Foundation (HLF) was created for the purpose of providing financial and material support to HAMAS. It is alleged that over the years, the Holy Land Foundation provided significant financial resources to HAMAS, known HAMAS leaders and key strategists.
The indictment further alleges that in April 1988 the HLF sent approximately $100,000 to HAMAS's Mousa Abu Marzook, who shortly thereafter became HAMAS's Political Bureau Chief. Additionally, between April 1989 and October 1989, the Holy Land Foundation transferred approximately $725,000 to an account held by the Islamic Center of Gaza, located in Gaza. The Islamic Center of Gaza was established by HAMAS leader and founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin, and was used by him to coordinate and conduct HAMAS activities.
As the U.S. Government began to scrutinize individuals and entities in the United States who were raising funds for terrorist groups in the mid-1990s, the indictment alleges that the Holy Land Foundation intentionally cloaked its financial support for HAMAS behind the mantle of charitable activities. The indictment alleges that the Foundation and the defendants provided financial support to the families of HAMAS suicide bombers, detainees, and activists knowing and intending that such assistance would support HAMAS's terrorist infrastructure.
As alleged in the indictment, the defendants targeted specifically for financial aid families related to well-known HAMAS terrorists killed or jailed by the Israelis. In this manner, the defendants effectively rewarded past, and encouraged future, suicide bombings and terrorist activities on behalf of HAMAS.
Since 1995, when it first became illegal to provide financial support to HAMAS regardless of the purported use of that support, the Holy Land Foundation has provided more than $12 million in funding to HAMAS through various HAMAS-affiliated committees and organizations located in Palestinian-controlled areas and elsewhere.
I thank U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas, Richard Roper, for his leadership in this case, as well as the Justice Department's Terrorist Financing Task Force under the direction of Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, Christopher Wray.
This prosecution would have been more difficult, if not impossible, were it not for the tools provided by the USA PATRIOT Act. After that law's passage, much of the information that had been gathered by intelligence agents related to this investigation became available for use by prosecutors. Indeed, significant, compelling evidence that will be used at the trial in this case was derived through court-authorized surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Prosecutors also used the PATRIOT Act authority that allowed the court in Dallas, which was most familiar with the case, to issue search warrants for locations outside the Dallas district.
This case has been a model of cooperative law enforcement. In developing the evidence for these charges, the prosecutors and FBI agents have enjoyed the benefit of a number of state and federal agencies represented on the North Texas Joint Terrorism Task Force, including the IRS, the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the State Department, the Secret Service, the Department of Army CID, the Texas Department of Public Safety, and the Police Departments of the cities of Plano, Garland, Dallas, and Richardson, Texas.
To those who exploit good hearts to fund secretly violence and murder, this prosecution sends a clear message: There is no distinction between those who carry out terrorist attacks and those who knowingly finance terrorist attacks. The United States will ensure that both terrorists and their financiers meet the same, certain justice.
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