CAIR: SCRUTINIZED FOR YEARS, FOUNDATION FACES TRIAL
A 14-year-long investigation, which sent FBI agents around the world, wiretapping phones and hiding in surveillance vans, is scheduled to come to a head on Monday in Dallas when the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development goes on trial, accused of helping to fund terrorism while simultaneously doling out charity assistance to sick children and needy schools.
The founders and top officers of the Richardson-based Islamic charity, once the largest of its kind in the United States, are accused of being the financial and social-service arm of Hamas. Supporting Hamas is against federal law because the United States has declared it a terrorist group.
Holy Land Foundation officials and their supporters contend that they were raising money to help Palestinian families and orphans. From the outset, Islamic leaders decried the Holy Land prosecution as an anti-Muslim witch hunt promoted by the pro-Israel lobby in the United States.
Jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday, and the trial is expected to take about five months.
The case has generated headlines worldwide. Some Muslims see it as an attempt by some U.S. prosecutors and politicians to fan fears about the threat of terrorism posed by Muslim and Islamic groups.
Federal prosecutors acknowledge it will not be an easy trail to follow as they try to prove that the foundation hurt people instead of helping them.
"This case presents unusual facts and is unlikely to be within the common experience or knowledge of an average juror," prosecutors said in a brief filed with the court in May.
Defense lawyers countered by saying that the government's case is hard to understand only because it's based primarily on hearsay evidence. And they took issue with what they said were the prosecution's plans to introduce statements from people who are not expected to show up in court.
If that happens, the defense lawyers said in their brief, it would violate their clients' "Sixth Amendment right to confront the witnesses against them."
The case has been a cause celebre for American Muslims since federal agents first staged a raid a week before 9-11. A federal task force raided the Infocom Internet services company, which was associated with and across the street from the Holy Land Foundation in Richardson. Two months later, the government froze the charity's assets, totaling millions of dollars.
Contributions to Muslim charities nationwide dropped sharply in wake of the raid.
The government says it is simply working to cut off the funding sources for Hamas militants and their suicide bombers. In prior court appearances tied to the Holy Land Foundation, prosecutors have argued that people contributing to the foundation should have known they were helping Hamas terrorists.
Muslim leaders say federal authorities are playing on people's fears and prejudices, which they call "Islamophobia."
"The Muslim community is watching this very closely," said Parvez Ahmed, national board chairman of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, based in Washington.
Local and national Muslim organizations have recently formed a coalition, Hungry for Justice, which plans to blog about the trial daily, and representatives of the Muslim community will be in the courtroom each day, Ahmed said.
He said all they want is a fair trial and to ensure that the "American Muslim community is not intimidated into silence."