HOLY LAND LEADER WANTS HIS DAY IN COURT
- HOLY LAND LEADER WANTS HIS DAY IN COURT
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
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,'"
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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