The United States charged a banned Muslim charity and seven men with conspiring to support the radical Islamic group Hamas, and with tax fraud and money laundering, according to an indictment unsealed Tuesday.
The Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, along with its chairman, executive director, its lead fundraiser and four other officials were charged with 42 counts of illegal financial transactions, conspiracy, money laundering and tax fraud.
The indictment seeks 12.4 million dollars from the group and the seven men, which it says is the amount they funneled to Hamas between 1995 and 2001.
The Texas-based foundation, which had billed itself as the largest US-based Muslim charity until it was banned, was also accused of financial connections to Hamas since its creation in 1989, funding Hamas and families of Hamas martyrs and prisoners, and acting as a fundraiser for Hamas in the United States.
"The indictment alleges that the Holy Land Foundation intentionally cloaked its financial support for Hamas behind the mantle of charitable activities," Attorney General John Ashcroft told reporters.
"The indictment alleges that the foundation and the defendants provided financial support to the families of Hamas suicide bombers, detainees, and activists knowing and intending that such assistance would support Hamas's terrorist infrastructure."
The indictment said the group sponsored orphans and needy families in the West Bank and Gaza, but sought orphans and families whose relatives had died or were jailed because of Hamas attacks on Israel, including suicide bombings.
"In this manner, the defendants effectively rewarded past, and encouraged future, suicide bombings and terrorist activities on behalf of Hamas," Ashcroft said.
The indictment said Holy Land had given financial aid to the family of slain Hamas leader Abdelaziz Rantissi, killed in an Israeli missile strike in April, when he was deported with other Palestinian leaders from Israel to Lebanon in 1993.
The US government shuttered the foundation and froze its assets in December 2001 as part of a crackdown on US-based Muslim charities that were suspected of funnelling money to terrorist groups around the globe in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
The group had appealed the ban, but the US Supreme Court in March refused to consider reversing it.
No criminal charges had been filed against the group until a grand jury in Dallas, Texas handed up the indictment on Monday.
Holy Land's chairman Ghassan Elashi, one of the seven named in the indictment, has already been jailed in a separate case in which he was convicted of illegally shipping computers to Libya and Syria through a company called InfoCom.
Washington considers both countries as "state sponsors of terrorism."
Four of the men were arrested around the United States early Tuesday, but two others were believed outside the country and considered fugitives, Ashcroft said.
The two missing men were the group's executive director Haitham Maghawri and grants director Akram Mishal, he said.
Holy Land's president Shukri Abu Baker, director of endowments Mohammad El-Mezain, fundraiser Mufi Abdelqader, and its New Jersey representative Abdulraham Odeh were arrested and expected to appear in court later Tuesday.
Mishal is the cousin of Damascus-based Hamas leader Khalid Meshaal, while Abdulqader is his half-brother, the indictment said.
The US Treasury last year listed Meshaal as a "specially designated global terrorist," freezing his assets.