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DALLAS – A founding member of what was once the largest Muslim charity in the United States was sentenced to 65 years in prison Wednesday for funneling millions of dollars to the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
Shukri Abu Baker, 50, of Garland, Texas, was the first of five members of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development to be sentenced.
Ghassan Elashi, 55, of Richardson, also got 65 years. Another defendant, Mohammad El-Mezain, 55, was sentenced to 180 months for one count of conspiracy to support a terrorist organization.
After a jury failed to reach a verdict in 2007, the men were convicted in a second trial last November on 108 charges stemming from allegations the charity sent more than $12 million to Hamas. It’s illegal to give support to Hamas, which has been listed by the U.S. as a terror group since 1995 and is blamed for hundreds of suicide bombings targeting Israeli civilians.
The charity leaders were convicted on charges ranging from supporting a terrorist organization to money laundering and tax fraud. The two men still to be sentenced – Mufid Abdulqader and Abdulrahman Odeh – were convicted of conspiracy.
The charity itself was convicted on 32 counts. It wasn’t accused of violence, but of bankrolling schools and social welfare programs that the U.S. government says are controlled by Hamas.
The defendants said they only fed the needy and gave much-needed aid to a volatile region.
“I did it because I cared, not at the behest of Hamas,” Abu Baker told the judge Wednesday.
U.S. District Judge Jorge Solis cut off Abu Baker and told him: “You didn’t tell the whole story. Palestinians were in a desperate situation, but that doesn’t justify supporting Hamas.”
The charity’s supporters say the prosecution was a politically motivated product of former President George W. Bush’s “war on terror” and a prime example of anti-Islamic hysteria after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S.
Defense attorneys also protested that an Israel official was allowed to testify anonymously that Hamas members were among the leaders of the charity’s benefactors.
The Israeli agent, who testified under the pseudonym “Avi,” also appeared at the 2007 trial.
Associated Press – May 27, 2009
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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