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Hamas decries prison time for charity members

A senior Hamas official criticizes the prison sentences handed down by a U.S. court to members of a Muslim charity that sent aid to the militant Palestinian group.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A senior Hamas official on Thursday criticized the prison sentences handed down by a U.S. court to members of a Muslim charity that sent aid to the militant Palestinian group, calling the ruling politically motivated and unjust.

Hamas' deputy political leader, Moussa Abu Marzouk, said one of the men sentenced is a relative of his and another is the half brother of the group's top leader, Khaled Mashaal.

The U.S. designated Hamas a terrorist organization in 1995, making it illegal to offer the group support. Hamas has taken credit for suicide bombings targeting Israeli civilians.

A court in Dallas on Wednesday sentenced two founding members of what was once the largest U.S. Muslim charity to 65 years in prison for funneling millions of dollars to Hamas. Three other men were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 15 to 20 years for conspiracy.

Shukri Abu Baker, 50, and Ghassan Elashi, 55, were among the five members of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development sentenced to prison. The men and Holy Land were convicted in November on 108 charges.

Convictions follow mistrial
The convictions followed a mistrial in which the government in 2007 failed to sway jurors that the now-defunct charity, based in a Dallas suburb, was in fact aiding Hamas.

The two Holy Land leaders were convicted on charges ranging from supporting a terrorist organization to money laundering and tax fraud. The group wasn't accused of violence but of bankrolling Hamas-controlled schools and social welfare programs.

Mufid Abdulqader, 49, was sentenced to 20 years on three conspiracy counts. Mohammad El-Mezain, 55, got 15 years for one count of conspiracy. Abdulrahman Odeh received 15 years for three conspiracy counts.

Abu Marzouk said Abdulqader was the half brother of Mashaal. He said Elashi was a relative of his.

He told The Associated Press that the court's ruling was part of a pattern of politically motivated trials "under different pretexts against all Palestinians on U.S. territory who are committed to their rights to help their Palestinian people."

"They are clear political trials and have nothing to do with the law," Abu Marzouk said.