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Daily Archives: November 26, 2008

US-based Muslim charity convicted of funding terrorism

by Jason Trahan*

The leaders of what was once the largest Muslim charity in the United States were found guilty Monday of acting as a front for Palestinian militants in the largest terrorism financing prosecution in American history.
It was a major victory in the White House's legal "war on terror" and comes after a mistrial was declared last year in the case involving the now defunct Texas-based Holy Land Foundation, charged with funnelling 12 million dollars to Hamas.
"Today's verdicts are important milestones in America's efforts against financiers of terrorism," Patrick Rowan, assistant attorney general for national security, said in a statement.
"This prosecution demonstrates our resolve to ensure that humanitarian relief efforts are not used as a mechanism to disguise and enable support for terrorist groups."
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.
One woman cried out: "My dad is not a criminal! He's a human!"
Holy Land was one of several Muslim organisations the Bush administration closed in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks for allegedly raising money for overseas Islamic extremists.
Muslim charities that remain open have reported significant drops in contributions because of fears of prosecution even as juries deadlocked or rendered acquittals or convictions of lesser charges in two other high-profile terror financing cases in Florida and Chicago.
The United States Justice Department vowed in October 2007 to retry the five former charity organisers in the Holy Land case after jurors could not agree on verdicts on nearly 200 charges and a new jury was seated in mid-September.
Over the past two months, the government has presented largely the same evidence hoping to prove that Holy Land was created in the late 1980s to gather donations from deep-pocketed American Muslims to support the then-newly formed Hamas movement resisting the Israeli occupation.
Hamas — a multi-faceted Islamist political, social and armed movement which now controls the Gaza Strip — was designated a terrorist organisation by the United States in 1995 and the trial centred over whether Holy Land continued to support the group after this point.
Prosecutors did not accuse the charity of directly financing or being involved in terrorist activity. Instead, they said humanitarian aid was used to promote Hamas and allow it to divert existing funds to militant activities.
Defence attorneys said the charity was a non-political organisation 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.
They left the courthouse without comment.
After reading the verdicts, U.S. District Judge Jorge Solis ordered the men detained because of fears they would flee the country before sentencing given their international ties.
Khaled Meshaal, Hamas' political leader in Syria, is the brother of defendant Mufid Abdulqader, a top Holy Land fundraiser whose Palestinian band played at the charity's events and now faces up to 55 years in jail.
Meshaal's deputy, Mousa Abu Marzook, is a cousin of defendant Mohammad el-Mezain, a foundation co-founder, and is married to the cousin of defendant Ghassan 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 Shukri 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.
A fifth defendant is Abdulrahman Odeh, Holy Land's New Jersey representative, who faces up to 55 years in jail.
Jurors also found that the defendants owed the government 12.4 million dollars.



Endeavour astronauts finish fourth and last spacewalk


Two US astronauts Monday finished the fourth and last spacewalk of the shuttle Endeavour's mission at the International Space Station, completing all the tasks and repairs required of them, NASA said.
The "home improvement" mission at the orbiting station will be extended by one day with the Endeavour's return to Florida set for Sunday, a National Aeronautics and Space Administration spokesman at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
The spacewalkers, Steve Bowen and Shane Kimbrough, closed the hatch of the ISS decompression chamber at 0831 Macau time, ending their spacewalk, a commentator said on NASA television.
Their EVA — extra vehicular activity, NASA talk for spacewalk — lasted six hours, seven minutes, 23 minutes longer than programmed.
The two astronauts finished cleaning, lubricating and replacing eleven of twelve ball bearings of a rotation device on one of the ISS's three double solar antenna arrays, or Solar Alpha Rotary Joint, which was stuck.
The space repair began during the first spacewalk a week ago, and yesterday the joint was to be tested to see if it works properly.
The astronauts also installed a camera on one of the ISS's truss segments and a Global Positioning System on the Japanese Kibo laboratory module.
The four spacewalks brings to 118 the total EVAs — 745 hours, 29 minutes — used in building the ISS since it was first placed in orbit on November 20, 1998.
The orbiting structure is scheduled to be completed by mid-2010.
NASA decided to extend the Endeavour mission by 24 hours to 16 days, to give the astronauts time to fix a faulty urine processor unit they delivered that is designed to process urine, perspiration and bath water into drinkable water.
The problem a centrifuge motor inside the distillation unit that was running too slow and drawing too much electrical current has apparently been found and the 250 million dollar machine should produce samples to be analyzed back on earth, NASA said.
The device is essential for doubling the accommodation capacity, as it would be able to recycle the station's 6.8 tonnes of waste water produced each year.
Once in place, the unit would make it no longer necessary to regularly ferry vast quantities of water to the space station.
Endeavour is set to undock from the ISS Friday morning, with landing at the Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral, Florida, at around 1:18pm (0218 Macau time) Monday.
Endeavour has delivered 14.5 tons of equipment to double the ISS' crew capacity from three to six.
Besides the urine-recycling unit, the astronauts installed a freezer and an oven for scientific experiments by NASA's Destiny Laboratory Module, two new sleeping quarters, exercise equipment, a second toilet, and two new ovens and a refrigerator for food preparation.