Simplifying case helped prosecution of Holyland Foundation

Steven Emerson:

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In the original trial last year, jurors acquitted El-Mezain on 31 of the 32 counts against him, but could not reach unanimous verdicts on any other counts, prompting a mistrial.

Prosecutors made a series of significant adjustments, from dropping 29 counts each against defendants Mufid Abdulqader and Abdelrahman Odeh, to adding new witnesses who could put the charity support in context. In addition, jurors in this trial saw three exhibits Israeli military officials seized from the Palestinian Authority which showed the PA also considered HLF to be a Hamas financer and that an HLF-supported charity committee was controlled by Hamas.

The result was a much more streamlined case that followed a logical narrative, said Peter Margulies, a law professor at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island. Seeing the Palestinian Authority reach the same conclusion as the U.S. government had to have helped, he said.

In addition, prosecutors provided summary exhibits that served as "a road map" to the case and had to help jurors deliberate, Margulies said. "The jury was able to look at the evidence and get past the perceived biases of any of the witnesses and see the evidence as a whole."

That evidence made clear that the defendants knew where the money raised in the U.S. was going, despite legal prohibitions against support for Hamas.

The verdict was hailed by M. Zuhdi Jasser, founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. Prosecutors prevailed because they were able to "connect the ideology of political Islam and the overriding mission of Islamist organizations like the HLF to their desire to contribute to the efforts of terror groups, like Hamas," he said. "When this connection is made we will see the return of a guilty verdict. In future [terrorism financing] cases DOJ will not only have to connect the financial dots but [will have] to demonstrate an overarching common Islamist mission."

Prosecutors say HLF was part of a Palestine Committee – a conglomerate of U.S. based Muslim organizations and individuals committed to helping Hamas financially and politically. HLF was its fundraising arm, a designation formalized by Hamas deputy political director Mousa Abu Marzook in 1994. Support for Hamas became illegal with a 1995 executive order by President Bill Clinton and subsequent congressional action.

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Journalist Douglas Farah studied the HLF evidence on behalf of the Nine Eleven Finding Answers (NEFA) Foundation and was the first to identify the significance of a Muslim Brotherhood memorandum outlining the group's ambitions in America. He said Monday's verdict has implications for unindicted co-conspirators in the case – most notably the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) - because it validates what already was "a clear public record of why these groups were founded and how."

The Muslim Brotherhood memo called for "a kind of grand jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and ‘sabotaging' its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God's religion is made victorious over all other religions."

CAIR is listed as a member of the Brotherhood's Palestine Committee and founders Omar Ahmad and Nihad Awad are included on a telephone list of committee members. CAIR has not refuted the evidence, Farah said. Government officials ought to study that evidence to realize CAIR is not what it presents itself as.

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The first case was what I call a "Death Star" case where the prosecution attempts to indict the defendant on every crime he thinks they committed. What happens when that route is taken is that the case bogs downs in details not germane to the main case. It is usually better to pick you three or four strongest cases which are inarguable and hammer those and let the other evidence just kind of drift in which lets the jurors know that these guys are really worse than just this simple case.

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