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    HOLY LAND LEADER WANTS HIS DAY IN COURT Jack Douglas Jr., Star-Telegram, 10/1/03 http://www.dfw.com/mld/startelegram/news/state/6909662.htm GARLAND -- The U.S.
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 2, 2003
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      Jack Douglas Jr., Star-Telegram, 10/1/03

      GARLAND -- The U.S. government considers Shukri Abu-Baker a dangerous
      man, a supporter of suicide bombers in the Middle East who is living
      an outwardly nondescript life in a Dallas suburb.

      But almost two years after the Islamic charity he headed was shut
      down by President Bush, Abu-Baker is still trying to force the
      government to prove its case against the Holy Land Foundation for
      Relief and Development in open court.

      Abu-Baker, who became a U.S. citizen in 1989, said the raid on Holy
      Land was "equivalent to a psychological hurricane," taking away his
      job and cutting off his family's health benefits.

      And he continues to proclaim his innocence, even as he waits for a
      federal grand jury's decision on whether Holy Land's officers have
      committed any crimes.

      "I had a passion for helping children," Abu-Baker, 44, said recently
      from the living room of his Garland home, as his 2-year-old daughter
      peeked around the corner, smiling at a visitor.

      "I have no passion for violence," he said. "I have no passion for

      On Dec. 4, 2001, federal agents closed Holy Land's headquarters in
      Richardson and its offices across the country, freezing millions of
      dollars in assets and seizing boxes of documents and other items,
      including plants and family pictures. Holy Land, which calls itself
      the world's largest Muslim charity, says that more than $1.9 million
      in assets were seized.

      The agents were working under an executive order, approved by Bush
      under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977, that
      accused Holy Land of being a moneymaking arm for Hamas, the Islamic
      organization that has staged dozens of suicide attacks against
      Israel. President Clinton designated Hamas as a terrorist
      organization in 1995.

      "Money raised by the Holy Land Foundation is used by Hamas to support
      schools and indoctrinate children to grow up into suicide bombers,"
      Bush said at the time. "Money raised by the Holy Land Foundation is
      also used by Hamas to recruit suicide bombers and to support their

      Abu-Baker says that Holy Land merely helped the needy, particularly
      children in Palestine.

      "When they talk about terrorism, or any association of me to
      terrorism, they're definitely talking about another person," he
      said. "Definitely, the Holy Land Foundation is not a terrorist

      Abu-Baker spoke to the Star-Telegram recently from his Garland home,
      which he shares with his wife of 20 years, Wejdan, and their four
      daughters, Shurook, 2; Nida, 9; Sanabel, 16; and Zaira, 19.

      Abu-Baker has been unable to convince a federal judge that a jury
      should decide the charity's fate, and he and his lawyers are
      considering an appeal to the Supreme Court -- their last chance of
      saving the foundation.

      The U.S. government has successfully argued that it has enough
      evidence to tie Holy Land to Hamas, but that detailing the evidence
      in open court would tip off terrorists and jeopardize national and
      international security.

      Abu-Baker said he is not optimistic that Holy Land will prevail in
      the Supreme Court.

      "In terms of what's going on in the country at this point, it is
      rather discouraging for any Arab or Muslim to have high expectations
      of anything," he said. "I think it will be an uphill battle."

      Kathy Colvin, spokeswoman at the U.S. attorney's office in Dallas,
      and Guadalupe Gonzalez, special agent in charge of the FBI in Dallas,
      declined to comment.

      Abu-Baker, the son of a Palestinian father and Brazilian mother, said
      the shutdown of the charity forced him to accept money from his
      friends -- a far cry from the days when he raised millions for others.

      "My wife and daughters, they had to sell all the gold they had," he
      said. "And you know, in our culture, the Arab culture, one of the
      signs of shame is for a man to sell his wife's jewelry.

      "I went through that shame."

      In the months since the closure, Abu-Baker and his wife have started
      a small marketing and advertising business. Sanabel, who has a
      progressive blood disorder and cystic fibrosis, is being cared for
      through the Children's Health Insurance Program, a state-administered
      program for the children of low-income Texans.

      But, as the federal grand jury meets in Dallas, Abu-Baker concedes
      that his troubles may not be over.

      "I'm always bracing for the worst scenario," he said, adding, "As
      long as my family is safe, as long as my daughter Sanabel is getting
      the best treatment she deserves, I know I can weather the storm."

      The government has never asserted that Holy Land or Hamas had any
      involvement with the 9-11 attacks, but it has said that Hamas
      supported al Qaeda's actions.

      "Even after the ... terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center
      and Pentagon, Hamas' public statements urge support for continued
      violence against Israel and the United States," a government document

      Tim Evans of Fort Worth, one of several lawyers representing Abu-
      Baker, says he is so convinced of his client's innocence that he is
      working for free.

      It has not been a fair fight, said Evans, who successfully defended a
      member of the Branch Davidian sect against government charges arising
      from the 1993 standoff in Waco.

      "It is not a fight at all," he said. "We can't even get the fight

      Evans says the government's actions have been influenced by a $100
      million civil lawsuit, pending in Chicago, filed by the family of a
      U.S.-born seminary student who was killed by terrorist gunfire at a
      West Bank bus stop. The suit accuses Holy Land and other Islamic
      organizations of responsibility for the 1996 death.

      The lawsuit, Evans says, has been encouraged by "pro-Israel groups"
      with powerful political connections, including the Anti-Defamation

      "There is no doubt in my mind that there is a close association
      between the civilians behind that lawsuit and the government's
      investigation" of Holy Land, he said.

      "Garbage," responded Mark Briskman, director of the Anti-Defamation
      League in Texas and Oklahoma. Briskman said the ADL has
      always "encouraged" the government to look into allegations against
      anyone helping Hamas in its attacks against Israelis, but "it has
      nothing to do with undue influence or being anti-Palestinian."

      The ADL, Briskman added, is not a party in the Chicago lawsuit.

      Another of Holy Land's lawyers, John Boyd of Albuquerque, questions
      the credibility of a 49-page report released by Dale Watson, a
      government counter-terrorism director, that accuses the charity and
      Abu-Baker of consorting with Hamas terrorists.

      The FBI says the report is based on information obtained through
      confidential informants and surveillance equipment that dates to
      October 1993, when Abu-Baker and other members of Holy Land gathered
      in a Philadelphia hotel.

      The government said the event was attended by "senior leaders of
      Hamas," something Abu-Baker denied.

      "We were getting together just like any spiritual group," he said.

      The report also cites documents that say parents, widows and siblings
      of Hamas suicide bombers received money from Holy Land.

      Abu-Baker said he knows of no instance in which a relative of a
      suicide bomber received Holy Land money, but he said that some
      charity funds had been given to "families of Hamas activists."

      He refuted the FBI's assertion that he was talking about suicide
      bombers when he was overheard to say that Holy Land's "mission"
      included helping the loved ones of "martyrs."

      "The term 'martyr' is a cultural term that is given to any person who
      gets killed in a country where there is war -- innocent stand-byers,
      children, elderly people," Abu-Baker said. "We have never used it,
      actually, in reference to people who get killed while fighting the
      Jews or doing suicide bombings."

      Boyd said he believes that the Watson report was partly put together
      by Michael Resnick, who led the FBI's surveillance of Hamas until he
      was discredited. A congressional report said he filed "inaccurate
      affidavits" to obtain court approval to wiretap.

      Boyd also accuses the government of providing a questionable
      translation of a 1997 statement made to Israeli police by Mohammad
      Anati, then head of Holy Land's office in Jerusalem.

      According to the FBI, Anati told police that much of the charity
      money went to the needy, "but some of the aid was channeled to Hamas."

      Boyd, however, said his office retrieved Anati's original statement
      to the Israelis, then hired an independent translator who determined
      that Anati never said Holy Land money went to Hamas.

      "What Anati actually said is, 'We never gave any money to Hamas,'"
      Boyd said.

      Today, Abu-Baker said he is bitter about the raid on his charity's
      offices and the effect it had on him and his family.

      "Nothing was left behind except the carpets and the ceiling," he
      said. "My own plants in my office were gone. My grandparents'
      picture, the only picture I had of them ... (was) gone.

      "What on earth do plants and family pictures have to do with

      Abu-Baker says he has told his lawyers that if he is indicted, he
      wants to surrender rather than be taken from his home. He does not
      want to be handcuffed in front of his family, especially in front of
      his ailing 16-year-old daughter.

      "She couldn't take it," he said.

      Jack Douglas Jr., (817) 390-7700



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