updated 7/26/2007 12:07:10 PM ET 2007-07-26T16:07:10

A Muslim charity channeled millions to people and organizations with ties to Hamas in aid of the militant group’s goal to destroy Israel and replace it with an Islamic state, a federal prosecutor told a jury Tuesday.

Opening statements were made in the trial of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development and five of its top officials, charged with aiding terrorists, conspiracy and money laundering. The trial is expected to last several months and caps an FBI investigation that lasted more than a decade.

Prosecutor James T. Jacks said the foundation was created to raise money for Hamas. The charity’s leaders lied about their purpose “because to tell the truth is to reveal what they were all about — the destruction of the state of Israel and replacing it with a Palestinian Islamic state,” he said.

Some of the money went to support the families of suicide bombers, according to authorities.

Defense attorneys say Holy Land supported humanitarian efforts in Palestinian neighborhoods and did not knowingly aid Hamas.

“Holy Land had nothing to do with politics. Its focus was on children in need,” Nancy Hollander, lawyer for Holy Land chief executive Shukri Abu Baker, said in her opening statement.

Defense: Charity tried to avoid trouble
Defense lawyers said Holy Land approached U.S. officials, including prosecutor Jacks, asking how to stay on the right side of the law while working in the Middle East.

“They were never told to stop working with anyone,” Hollander said.

Defense lawyers also said that the government’s U.S. Agency for International Development worked with some of the same Middle Eastern charity groups that Holy Land did, and that none of the groups Holy Land worked with appeared on terrorism watch lists.

Contact with Hamas has been illegal since 1995, when President Clinton designated it a terrorist group.

Hamas won Palestinian legislative elections last year and took control of Gaza earlier this year. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement heads a moderate government in the West Bank.

The five men on trial aren’t accused of being terrorists. Rather, they are charged with funneling $36 million to individuals and groups tied to Hamas, including $12.4 million sent after Clinton’s designation.

Bush announced seizure of assets
Federal agents raided the foundation’s offices in December 2001.  President Bush personally announced the seizure of the charity’s assets, declaring that “the net is closing” on those who fund terrorism.


Outside the courthouse, Holy Land supporters charged that the case is an effort to intimidate U.S. Muslims. In court papers, prosecutors listed about 300 Muslim individuals and groups as unindicted co-conspirators, ranging from the founder of Hamas to people who raised money for Holy Land.

“We’re all being lumped into one main aggregate of supporting terrorists,” said Mahdi Bray, an official with the Muslim American Society. “A sizable portion of the American Muslim community is concerned the government has overreached.”

Prosecutors on Tuesday dropped six of the 42 counts in the 2004 indictment against the men related to specific financial transactions.

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