Paul J. Weber
The Associated Press
September 21, 2008 - 8:00pm

Federal prosecutors Monday started a second attempt to convict leaders of a Muslim charity on charges of financing terrorism after the first trial last year ended with a mistrial on most of the allegations.

The Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development is accused of funneling more than $12 million dollars to the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which the U.S. government considers a terrorist organization.

Five members of Holy Land, the largest Muslim charity in the U.S. before it was shut down in 2001, face charges ranging from conspiracy to supporting a foreign terrorist organization. Each has pleaded not guilty.

"The defendants know that the money they were giving to these organizations were going into the hands of Hamas," Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Shapiro said.

Shapiro said Holy Land existed to support Hamas, raising money to support schools and community organizations run by or on behalf of the Palestinian movement.

But attorneys for Holy Land members repeated their defense from the original trial, saying the group raised money to provide humanitarian aid to victims of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

To emphasize that point, defense attorneys showed jurors a picture of Palestinian children with school backpacks provided by Holy Land.

"The evidence is clearly going to show you that their mission was charitable," said Linda Moreno, the attorney for former Holy Land Chairman Ghassan Elashi. "Holy Land's mission was not political."

After last year's trial, some observers said prosecutors exhausted the jury with a bloated and complicated case. In opening statements Monday, prosecutors told jurors that the relationship between Holy Land and Hamas wasn't hard to follow and they encouraged the panel to take notes.

Elashi and Shukri Abu Baker, Holy Land's chief executive, are again each charged with conspiracy, supporting a foreign terrorist organization, money laundering and filing false tax returns.

Mufid Abdulqader and Abdulrahman Odeh each face three conspiracy counts, down from nearly 30 during the first trial.

Mohammed El-Mezain, a former Holy Land chairman acquitted on most charges in the first trial, is charged with one conspiracy count.

Aid to Hamas became illegal in 1995 when President Clinton branded it as a terrorist group. Defense attorneys told jurors that none of the charities Holy Land supported have been designated as terrorist groups by the U.S. government.

Prosecutors said Holy Land members used the code word "Samah" - "Hamas" backward - to discuss the group. Defense attorneys told jurors that only a handful of conversations used as evidence from 10 years of wire taps showed the frailty of the government's case.


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