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FBI Links Islamic Charity to Calls to Kill Israelis

Inquiry: Account of a Holy Land Foundation speaker's words is used to support freezing assets.

December 06, 2001|LISA GETTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — A prominent Islamic charity raised $207,000 at a 1995 Los Angeles event at which the keynote speaker exhorted the crowd to "Finish off the Israelis. Kill them all," according to an FBI memo obtained Wednesday.

The account is contained in a 49-page FBI document that the Treasury Department used to support this week's decision to freeze the assets of Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development. The charity allegedly funneled money to Hamas, the Palestinian militant organization that claimed responsibility for last weekend's suicide bombings in Israel.

The FBI memo provides a glimpse of how the federal government has gone about amassing evidence against groups it believes are aiding terrorists. It used informants to infiltrate meetings, relied on intelligence from other countries, such as Israel, and obtained "recently declassified electronic surveillance."

Since Sept. 11, the United States has frozen the assets of dozens of groups, but Holy Land was the first U.S.-based charity to be shut down.

An FBI informant identified the speaker at the January 1995 Muslim Youth Conference--held over the New Year's holiday at the Hyatt Regency hotel--as Sheikh Muhammed Siyam, a Hamas military leader.

"I've been told to restrict or restrain what I say. . . . I hope no one is recording me or taking any pictures, as none are allowed . . . because I'm going to speak the truth to you," Siyam reportedly said at the conference. "It's simple. Finish off the Israelis. Kill them all! Exterminate them! No peace ever! Do not bother to talk politics."

A Holy Land official then urged the crowd to give to "the cause," said the memo, which was written by Dale L. Watson, the FBI assistant director of counter-terrorism.

Memo Details Group's Alleged Ties to Hamas

Holy Land has raised money for Hamas at conferences for years, the memo said, and Siyam has been a frequent guest speaker--evidence of the charity's ties to the terrorist group.

Ghassan Elashi, Holy Land's chairman, said Wednesday that the foundation does not give money to Hamas. But he did acknowledge raising funds at Islamic conferences in which Siyam was a speaker.

"The question is not how we raise the funds," he said, "it's where we send the funds." He said the charity's money has aided more than 10,000 children and it will "contest the decision" to freeze its assets.

The White House announced that it has frozen $5 million of Holy Land's assets since imposing the freeze at midnight Monday.

"The message is this: Those who do business with terror will do no business with the United States--or anywhere else the United States can reach," Bush said in announcing the action Tuesday.

The Texas-based group, which has branches in New York, Illinois, New Jersey, California and Florida, collected $13 million in contributions last year, sending most of it overseas.

Holy Land has steadfastly maintained that it is a legitimate relief organization that has no ties to Hamas, which was designated as a terrorist organization by the United States on Jan. 23, 1995. The charity says the money it raises mainly goes to help Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza.

"All this notion about the Holy Land Foundation and terrorism is politically motivated," foundation President Shukri A. Baker said in an interview with The Times in October. He did not return messages left at his home Wednesday.

But the FBI memo contends that "key decision-makers" within Holy Land, including Baker, are "active members of Hamas." One informant told the FBI he attended a Nov. 5, 1995, Culver City conference in which Baker was introduced to the audience as "the senior vice president" of Hamas. Baker allegedly told the attendees that money raised by Holy Land was strictly for the militant group.

Credit card receipts showed that Hamas member Siyam made five trips to the United States from 1992 to 1994 on the foundation's corporate American Express card, all ostensibly for fund-raising, the FBI reported.

The memo said that the FBI's first solid evidence about Holy Land's ties to Hamas came in October 1993.

Three members of Holy Land, including Baker and Elashi, met in Philadelphia with senior members of Hamas and the Islamic Assn. for Palestine, another American nonprofit group that has been under scrutiny by the Treasury Department. The FBI memo said that the Islamic Assn. for Palestine, like Holy Land, had received "large sums of money" from Hamas political leader Mousa Abu Marzook. Marzook gave Holy Land a $210,000 contribution in 1992, according to the charity's income tax returns.

"The overall goal of the meeting was to develop a strategy to defeat the Israeli/Palestinian peace accord, and to continue and improve their fund-raising and political activities in the United States," the FBI reported, using information it gathered from its own intelligence and subsequent interviews of participants by the Israelis.

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