Monday, November 24, 2008

Muslim Charity, Leaders Convicted on Charges of Funding Terror

DALLAS - A Muslim charity and five of its former leaders were convicted Monday of funneling millions of dollars to the Palestinian militant group Hamas, finally handing the government a signature victory in its fight against terrorism funding.

U.S. District Judge Jorge A. Solis announced the guilty verdicts on all 108 counts on the eighth day of deliberations in the retrial of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, once the nation's largest Muslim charity. It was the biggest terrorism financing case since the attacks of Sept. 11. The convictions follow the collapse of Holy Land's first trial last year and defeats in other cases the government tried to build. President George W. Bush had personally announced the freezing of Holy Land's assets in 2001, calling the action "another step in the war on terrorism."

Ghassan Elashi, Holy Land's former chairman, and Shukri Abu-Baker, the chief executive, were convicted of a combined 69 counts, including supporting a specially designated terrorist, money laundering and tax fraud. Mufid Abdulqader and Abdulrahman Odeh were convicted of three counts of conspiracy, and Mohammed El-Mezain was convicted of one count of conspiracy to support a terrorist organization. Holy Land itself was convicted of all 32 counts.

A sentencing date hasn't been scheduled, but the punishments could be steep. Supporting a terrorist organization carries a maximum 15-year sentence on each count; money laundering carries a maximum 20 years on each conviction. Solis ordered the Holy Land leaders detained, citing the long prison terms they may face and their ties to the Middle East. Holy Land was accused of giving more than $12 million to support Hamas. The seven-week retrial ran about as long as the original, which ended in October 2007 when a judge declared a mistrial on most charges.

The U.S. designated Hamas a terrorist organization in 1995 and again in 1997, making contributions to the group illegal. Government officials raided Holy Land's headquarters in December 2001 and shut it down. Prosecutors labeled Holy Land's benefactors — called zakat committees — as terrorist recruiting pools. The charities, the government argued, spread Hamas' violent ideology and generated loyalty and support among Palestinians.

A chaotic courtroom scene ended last year's original trial, which lasted nearly two months and kept jurors deliberating for 19 days. But they deadlocked on many counts, and when a judge polled the panel about other verdicts, some disavowed their vote. The confusing finish led U.S. District Judge A. Joe Fish to declare a mistrial, and leaders of the defunct charity rushed outside to celebrate.

Observers last year panned the government for presenting a bloated case too complicated for jurors to follow. Prosecutors responded this year by dropping nearly 60 charges in the trial and tightening their narrative to jurors, even offering a kind of road map to help the panel follow the money. Two other high-profile terror-financing trials in Chicago and Florida ended without convictions on the major counts.

Friday, November 14, 2008

'Israel Liberation Week' Comes to Berkeley

The Zionist Freedom Alliance, a campus-based Jewish rights organization in the United States, has surprised many supporters and opponents by bringing "Israel Liberation Week" to the University of California at Berkeley. UC Berkeley has long been a bastion of left-wing political activism in America and is seen by many in the pro-Israel community as a hub of anti-Zionist hostility.

ZFA bills itself as the only student organization asserting Israel’s national rights on American college campuses and has been known to take stands in defense of the often-maligned Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria. While many ZFA student activists identify as politically left on the American political spectrum, all members of the organization advocate that Judea and Samaria belong solely to the Jewish people and that no foreign state should be established between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

Films, exhibits, concerts and educational campaigns will highlight the Jewish underground battles against British rule in the 1940s and will also promote the message that the United Nations behaves as an enemy to the State of Israel and works to intensify the conflict rather than resolve it. The campaign being featured this week at Berkeley is one called “UN out of Israel – Israel out of the UN.”

"Israel Liberation Week" at Berkeley is being organized personally by ZFA leaders Yehuda HaKohen and Eliyahu Chaim, who host "The Struggle" on Israel National Radio. The week-long event also took place last week at the University of Albany, where ZFA called for an end to US foreign aid.

When asked to explain the difference between running such a program at Albany and Berkeley, HaKohen – who himself lives on the east side of Jerusalem – answered that “Albany is a good place for us to spread our message of Jewish national rights, but Berkeley is one of the campuses that sets the political tone for college activism throughout the country. It’s a much more active and much more relevant school in that regard. ‘Israel Liberation Week’ at Albany succeeded in educating the campus to Jewish national rights and the suffering our people have endured due to United States pressure on our leaders [to surrender territory]. At Berkeley we hope to open the minds of idealistic liberal college students to the inherent justice of the Zionist Revolution.”

Before the week even began, posters of martyred Jewish underground fighter Moshe Barazani covered the Berkeley campus with the slogan “Who is Barazani?” When the buzz over the mysterious posters reached its peak, student activists covered the campus with new posters featuring a short biography of Barazani and the "Israel Liberation Week" logo.

Already at the beginning of the week, anti-Israel activists began challenging the message of Jewish liberation with a list of dubious claims. One Jewish member of the SJP (Students for Justice in Palestine) argued that there is no such thing as a Jewish nation and that Jews have no claim to any territory anywhere. Another SJP student accused ZFA of usurping the imagery of revolution and the language of national liberation to promote a Zionist agenda. The focus of her frustration was a shirt featuring the face of Lehi leader Yair Stern with the word “revolution” written underneath.

Gabe Weiner of the local ZFA chapter told Israel National News that the source of the SJP’s anger is that they are unequipped to counter the Zionist message. “These people are used to coming up against pro-Israel advocacy groups with either neo-Conservative or apologetic messages. They’ve never encountered a Zionist movement that speaks in the language of national liberation. One of their members resorted to trying to physically intimidate Yehuda [HaKohen], but when that attempt backfired, they were really left with nothing.

“The ZFA message works on a campus like Berkeley much better than the messages put forward by other groups,” he continued. “We’re actually fighting for a passionate cause and that resonates with students here. Even students who otherwise disagree with Israel’s existence.”

Union of Good has Hamas Ties?

A Dallas, Texas jury has gone into deliberation following closing arguments in a landmark case that will determine if the Holy Land Foundation is a legitimate charity organization for Palestinian Authority schools or a front to fund Hamas terrorism. Last year, the case ended in a mistrial.

Prosecutor Barry Jonas told the jurors to make their decision without political considerations. "You are not going to decide who is right and who is wrong in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict," he said.

Jonas replayed for the jury videos of Hamas fundraisers, including songs and lyrics that glorify Jihad. "If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it's a duck," he declared. "This was a Hamas rally. Who are we kidding?"

"They were part of a larger plan to eliminate the State of Israel and take over their land," Jonas charged. "By supporting Hamas, they helped create widows and orphans. Find them guilty."

Defense lawyers pleaded that the $12 million given by Holy Land to PA schools was earmarked for relief work for Arabs "under Israeli occupation," a phrase that prosecutors said was being used to distract jurors from the evidence.

Holy Land lawyer Theresa Duncan argued that stressing the "occupation" was not a distraction but an essential part of the argument that the funds were provided as a "religious obligation" to help people suffering stress.

"This case has always been about charity," she said. "This case is not about exploiting needs for a political agenda."

Jonas responded that the government believes in supporting charity, but "the bottom line is: it's illegal to give money to Hamas."

Although the United States has declared Hamas a terrorist organization, Holy Land officials never "advocated for the destruction of Israel," according to Duncan.

In a separate case, the Treasury Department ordered a freeze on Wednesday on any funds allocated for the Union of Good charity organization, which "acts as a broker" for Hamas, according to officials.

Government officials charged, "Some of the funds transferred by the Union of Good have compensated Hamas terrorists by providing payments to the families of suicide bombers."

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Woman Shot Dead Trying to Leave KKK Initiation

NEW ORLEANS, La. — An Oklahoma woman who was lured over the Internet to take part in a Ku Klux Klan initiation was shot and killed after the ritual went awry, and the group tried to cover it up by dumping her body on a rural roadside and setting her belongings aflame, authorities said.

But the plan failed: By Tuesday, a local Klan leader sat in jail on a second-degree murder charge, and seven others were charged with trying to help conceal the crime.

"I can't imagine anyone feeling endangered or at risk by any one of these kooks. The IQ level of this group is not impressive, to be kind," St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Jack Strain said Tuesday.

The woman, whose identity was not released, was supposed to be initiated near the village of Sun, La. and then return to her home state to find other members for the white supremacist group, Strain said.

It wasn't clear what rites awaited her at the campsite, but authorities believe the initiation had begun by the time the shooting happened. Strain said the group's leader, Raymond "Chuck" Foster, 44, shot and killed her Sunday night after a fight broke out when she asked to be taken back to town.

Foster was charged with second-degree murder and is being held without bond. Capt. George Bonnett, a spokesman for the sheriff's department, said he doesn't know if Foster has an attorney.

Seven others — five men and two women ages 20 to 30 — were charged with obstruction of justice and were held on $500,000 bond at the St. Tammany Parish jail. All eight of the suspects live in neighboring Washington Parish, but Bonnett said he couldn't immediately identify their hometowns.

Authorities said some of the suspects tried to destroy evidence by burning the woman's belongings along with other items. At the campsite, investigators found weapons, several flags and six Klan robes, some emblazoned with patches reading "KKK LIFE MEMBER" or "KKK SECURITY Enforcement."

Strain said the woman arrived in the Slidell, La., area last week and was met by two people connected to the Klan group and taken to the campsite on the banks of the Pearl River, about 60 miles north of New Orleans.

"We haven't completely sorted out if they finished the initiation," Bonnett said, adding he wasn't aware of any other KKK-related cases during his three years with the department. "I assume that they had started it, but I don't know if they were finished."

Authorities said the group's members called themselves the "Dixie Brotherhood." Mark Pitcavage, director of investigative research for the Anti-Defamation League, said the Dixie Brotherhood appears to be a small, loosely organized group of people.

"This is not what I would call an established Klan group," he said. "The Klan has a pretty high association with violence. Some of these guys are just crooks, sociopaths."

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Child Stoned in Somalia

Associated Press

MOGADISHU, Somalia — A 13-year-old girl who said she had been raped was stoned to death in Somalia after being accused of adultery by Islamic militants, a human rights group said.

Dozens of men stoned Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow to death Oct. 27 in a stadium packed with 1,000 spectators in the southern port city of Kismayo, Amnesty International and Somali media reported, citing witnesses. The Islamic militia in charge of Kismayo had accused her of adultery after she reported that three men had raped her, the rights group said.

Initial local media reports said Duhulow was 23, but her father told Amnesty International she was 13. Some of the Somali journalists who first reported the killing later told Amnesty International that they had reported she was 23 based upon her physical appearance.

Calls to Somali government officials and the local administration in Kismayo rang unanswered Saturday.

"This child suffered a horrendous death at the behest of the armed opposition groups who currently control Kismayo," David Copeman, Amnesty International's Somalia campaigner, said in a statement Friday.

Somalia is among the world's most violent and impoverished countries. The nation of some 8 million people has not had a functioning government since warlords overthrew a dictator in 1991 then turned on each other.

A quarter of Somali children die before age 5; nearly every public institution has collapsed. Fighting is a daily occurrence, with violent deaths reported nearly every day.

Islamic militants with ties to Al Qaeda have been battling the government and its Ethiopian allies since their combined forces pushed the Islamists from the capital in December 2006. Within weeks of being driven out, the Islamists launched an insurgency that has killed thousands of civilians.

In recent months, the militants appear to be gaining strength. The group has taken over the port of Kismayo, Somalia's third-largest city, and dismantled pro-government roadblocks. They also effectively closed the Mogadishu airport by threatening to attack any plane using it.