The Holy Land Foundation says it raised millions for Palestinian refugees but denies any connection to the militant Palestinian group Hamas. Court documents indicate the State Department began investigating the organization in the 1990s, but Holy Land kept operating until it was raided Tuesday by federal agents.
The FBI's involvement started as early as 1993, when agents eavesdropped on private meetings between foundation officers and representatives of Hamas, according to an FBI memorandum obtained by The Dallas Morning News.
Working closely with Israeli intelligence, FBI investigators concluded that some key decision makers in the Palestinian foundation were Hamas members and the charity was the primary U.S. fund-raising organ for the terrorist group, according to the memo.
In a joint statement with several prominent Muslim groups, the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development said Wednesday that shutting down its offices was ``unjust and counterproductive.''
The move ``can only damage America's credibility with Muslims in this country and around the world and could create the impression that there has been a shift from a war on terrorism to an attack on Islam,'' Holy Land said in its statement with groups including the American Muslim Alliance, American Muslim Council and the Council on American Islamic Relations.
Holy Land raised $13 million last year and claims to be the largest Muslim charity in the United States. Federal agents raided the group's suburban Dallas headquarters on Tuesday and closed offices in Paterson, N.J., Bridgeview, Ill., and San Diego.
In announcing the raids, Bush said Hamas uses money raised by Holy Land to indoctrinate children to become suicide bombers. Most donors don't know how the money is used, Bush said, ``but the facts are clear, the terrorists benefit from the Holy Land Foundation, and we're not going to allow it.''
The FBI memo detailed a series of 1993 meetings in Philadelphia - recorded by the FBI - in which Holy Land officials met with Hamas activists, reportedly to discuss increasing funds for the families of suicide bombers, prisoners and the wounded. Most funds collected by the foundation supported Hamas schools, hospitals and annuities for the families of suicide bombers, according to analyses referred to in the memo.
Holy Land President Shukri Abu-Baker called the government seizure a political move to appease the pro-Israel lobby in Washington.
``If the Holy Land Foundation had violated any U.S. law they would have charged us in a court of law. They wouldn't need to seize our assets,'' he said, vowing a court fight.
In an interview last month, Abu-Baker said Holy Land doesn't single out families of suicide bombers for assistance but cannot help it if a handful - he estimated fewer than 10 - have received aid.
Abu-Baker said Holy Land's critics are racists who consider every Palestinian a potential terrorist, ``even if they happen to be a 4-year-old child whose father decided to blow up himself.''
``I'm now asked by these groups to punish the child for the crimes that his father has committed, and I'm asked to starve the widow whose husband decided to kill himself,'' he said.
The joint statement Wednesday said: ``No relief group anywhere in the world should be asked to question hungry orphans about their parents' religious beliefs, political affiliations or legal status.''