LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.
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And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.
Today in Dallas, a federal trial pits the United States against the Holy Land Foundation of Richardson, Texas. The foundation was once North America's largest Muslim charity, but the government closed it in 2001, calling it a terrorist organization. Three years ago, an indictment accused it and seven officers of supporting the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas. Five defendants and two fugitives face several charges, and those charges include conspiracy, money laundering and engaging in prohibited financial transactions.
Bill Zeeble reports from member station KERA in Dallas.
BILL ZEEBLE: Lawyers say this will be no ordinary trial. Unlike a robbery case where the crime is fairly clear and both sides present a pile of evidence and parade of witnesses, this one's not so clear.
The Holy Land Foundation says it raised charitable funds for poor Palestinian families and orphans. The government alleges the foundation secretly funneled more than $12 million to another group, Hamas, which, from 1994 to 2001, committed terrorism with it like suicide bombings. Prosecutors wouldn't talk for this story but outlined their case in court papers.
Southern Methodist University law professor Jeffrey Kahn, who teaches counterterrorism, says the government will try to track the money's path.
Professor JEFFREY KAHN (Law, Southern Methodist University): If money is freed up in one area, it can be used in another area. To the extent that Hamas provides for a wide variety of medical and social welfare needs in Gaza and the West Bank as well as engages in acts of terrorism, every penny saved can be used in a terrorist context.
ZEEBLE: Fort Worth attorney Tim Evans used to represent Shukri Abu Baker and Ghassan Elashi, defendants in this case. He says his former clients and the other defendants collected money for charitable use only.
Attorney TIM EVANS (Former Attorney for Shukri Abu Baker and Ghassan Elashi): It is my belief that the prosecution will not be able to show that any money went to Hamas to fund any terrorist activities.
ZEEBLE: That's because it was not funneled directly, according to the FBI's former Deputy Assistant Director Danny Coulson. The money, he says, went to nonprofit groups controlled by Hamas. While faithful Muslims are called to give some of their income to such charities, Coulson's convinced the Holy Land Foundation misled donors.
Mr. DANNY COULSON (Former Deputy Assistant Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation): The Holy Land Foundation claims to be a religious organization that supports charities; al-Qaida claims to be a religious organization, too. An investigative agency has to respect that, but also you have to understand that people used that as a cover to support terrorism. And that's exactly what we knew was going on.
ZEEBLE: Coulson says that can be proven through wiretaps and witnesses who will say money went to Hamas-tied charities. The defense will deny that. There will also be documents seized by the Israeli Defense Force and an unnamed Israeli witness who could testify about Holy Land Foundation ties to Hamas.
Professor Kahn says these experts on both sides are essential to this case involving different governments, religions, cultures and languages.
Prof. KAHN: Because a lot of the concepts are new or subject to multiple interpretations, there are enough professors and other experts coming to Dallas for this case that you could have a small convention.
ZEEBLE: Unraveling the complex web in this case is expected to last four months or longer. For NPR News, I'm Bill Zeeble in Dallas.
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