Agent testifies 6th day (August 6, 2007)

More than a dozen tapped phone conversations filled the chili courtroom air on Monday, August 6, 2007. Some of the now 15-member jury devoted their full attention to reading the translated transcripts. Other jurors, on the other hand, listened like uneager 7th graders with their loud sighs, closed eyes and constant yawns. It was obvious to many that the wiretapped calls were anything but appealing.

Prosecutor Jim Jacks spent much of the day asking FBI agent Lara Burns about the 1993 Philadelphia meeting, which is a gathering where several individuals — including some of the defendants — met to discuss the Oslo peace accord between then-Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and then-Israeli prime minister Ishaq Rabin.

The FBI recorded much of the two-day meeting, which was located at a Courthouse Marriott, by using electronic surveillance. Jacks did not play any of what the FBI captured during the meeting. Instead, Jacks asked Burns to read aloud transcripts of the conversations. Desperately trying to prove that the defendant Mohammad El-Mezain should also be at fault, Burns told the jury that one meeting attendee said, Brother Abu Ibrahim (El-Mezain) should have been here with us, but he was in the hospital.

During the meeting, the group discussed various issues including political activism, charity work and media work. Defendant Shukri Abu-Baker said, Our objective is to bring the Oslo accord and its goals to failure. As Burns continued her testimony, she said one person mentioned Hamas, but was corrected by Abu-Baker, who asked everyone to use Samah (Hamas spelt backwards) instead. No one other than Samah truly protected the Palestinian people, one attendee said.

Burns continued reading the transcript from the meeting: How are you going to liberate Palestine? one person asked. Through jihad, another replied. Another attendee said, Sister Samah could get divorced and everyone could reject her. Would we be able to get her married again?

Burns then talked about Abu-Baker’s 2002 sworn statement, where he discussed the Philadelphia gathering. It was a group of Muslim intellectuals and community members who spoke their minds about the Palestinian situation. No decisions were made. Hamas was not designated by the U.S. as a terrorist organization until 1995, two years after the meeting. Samah, which means forgiveness, was a whimsical play on words — not an adopting secret term.

Jacks went back to questioning Burns about the Philadelphia meeting. She told the jury that Abu-Baker said, We give the Muslims $100,000 and the others $5,000. Jacks then asked about the Holy Land Foundation’s relief work in the United States. She said in 1995, the HLF sent a $5,000 check to the Oklahoma City Bombing relief fund.

Jacks said the HLF denied that defendant Ghassan Elashi attended the 1993 meeting. Jacks then displayed a 1993 FBI photograph that showed part of Elashi walking in Philadelphia during the time of the meeting.

For the next hour or two, government lawyers played several wiretapped conversations between individuals including officials with the HLF and the Islamic Association for Palestine. Through these chats, the government was attempting to prove that a major conspiracy was present. The dialogue contained lots of tension, so many people were wondering how a conspiracy could be proven if the individuals were at odds with each other. Jacks also played discussions intercepted from FBI surveillance planted in the home of an individual who is not a defendant in the HLF trial.

Burns grew weary and began taking a little more sips of water than normal as she began reading a couple several-page special reports by Hamas. One report discussed two Palestinian martyrs and the other talked about the kidnapping of an Israeli Zionist soldier.

Toward the end of the day, Jacks played an intercepted phone conversation between defendants El-Mezain and Abdulrahman Odeh. In the discussion, Odeh told El-Mezain about a suicide bombing in January 1995, calling it a “beautiful operation.”

After six days of the direct examination of Burns, many say the government has yet to prove that the HLF helped fund violent acts.

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