In one of its most important prosecutions since the September 11 attacks, the Justice Department won a clean sweep in the Holy Land Foundation terrorism-financing trial. A federal jury in Texas convicted the organization and five of its leaders on a wide array of charges including material support to terrorism, money laundering, and tax evasion. These crimes arose out of a years-long conspiracy to underwrite the murderous activities of Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been designated an international terrorist organization under U.S. law since the mid-1990s.
The verdicts are a testament to the Justice Department’s perseverance. An earlier trial had ended equivocally: The jury hung on the primary charges and delivered a spate of acquittals on the lesser ones. The government wisely revised its presentation, streamlining the charges and adding critical witnesses who placed complex financial dealings in a coherent context. Given the unavoidable overlay of the Israeli/Palestinian dispute, it was certainly helpful that the prosecution was able to show that the Palestinian Authority itself regarded HLF as Hamas’s fundraising arm.
The case marks an important affirmation of U.S. counterterrorism law. Since the federal criminal code’s overhaul in 1996, statutes proscribing the provision of material support to terrorists have become central to the government’s priority of starving jihadist organizations of financing. Without that capacity, we cannot hope to prevent terror strikes; we must instead be content to prosecute cells only after they have killed. This sensible provision is tirelessly attacked by self-styled public-interest litigants, who contend that the law unfairly encroaches on zakat, the Muslim obligation of charitable giving, insisting that one can contribute to the social welfare activities of Hamas or Hezbollah without intending to support terrorism. This is an evasion. There are plenty of authentic charities, Islamic and otherwise, to which well-meaning Muslims can contribute.
Based on solid intelligence, including the testimony of insiders, we know al-Qaeda and other jihadist organizations exploit ostensibly religious charities to fund their activities. Further, most contributions to terrorist organizations, especially monetary donations, are fungible. Once they are given, the donor has no control over how they are used. Even if Hamas did use social welfare contributions only for the donors’ intended purpose, such donations free up other funds to be channeled to terrorism while improving the organization’s standing.
Besides strengthening our legal arsenal, the HLF prosecution presents a significant teaching moment about the aims and methods of radical Islam, which transcend crude terrorist tactics.
The government’s evidence proved that the Muslim Brotherhood — the intellectual font of modern jihadism — has designed, as one of its memos put it, “a kind of grand jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and ‘sabotaging’ its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God’s religion is made victorious over all other religions.” In furtherance of that ambitious scheme, the Brotherhood established in the U.S. a “Palestine Committee” composed of Muslim activist organizations. In the short term, those organizations promoted Hamas’s goal of destroying Israel and establishing an Islamic state from the Jordan River to the Red Sea. HLF was the committee’s principal fundraiser, it channeled millions of dollars to Hamas-controlled organizations in the West Bank and Gaza.
The aim of the “grand jihad,” however, is not just to support terrorism overseas. It is to promote Islamist ideology and the incremental adoption of the Muslim legal regime, sharia, in the United States and the West. That agenda would be pursued not only, or even principally, by jihadist violence, but by the political activism of Muslim organizations presenting themselves as human-rights groups.
It goes without saying that a number of such groups have established themselves in the United States over the past two decades. Determining whether they are authentic champions of civil liberties or covert supporters of the Islamist agenda is crucial. Monday’s guilty verdicts in the HLF case provide a salient opportunity. Which of these groups will specifically and publicly condemn convicted abettors of terrorism? And which of them, by contrast, will continue the slanderous portrayal of sensible security measures and terrorism prosecutions as “Islamophobia”?