Saturday, January 12, 2008

Islamists & Shades of Al Capone

Alphonse Capone rose to become the undisputed leader of the Mafia in Chicago during the 1920's. He ran a multi-million dollar criminal empire involved in everything from vice and prostitution to rum running, theft and assassination. The police knew, the people knew, everyone knew what Capone was doing - but obtaining a conviction against him for any of these activities was impossible. That was until the IRS became involved. Capone wasn't convicted for any of his prominent illegal activities, but for tax fraud.

We are seeing something similar today in regards to Islamists and their political fronts that are raising funds for terrorist organizations such as Hamas. Attempting to prosecute people directly for terrorist fund raising activities has proven very problematic, as most recently seen in the Holy Land trial. But today we do have several convictions - not for supporting terrorist organizations, but for tax fraud relating to those activities. This from the Washington Post:

Three former leaders of an Islamic charity were convicted on federal tax and fraud charges in Boston yesterday for using tax exemptions to hide support for religious militants and alleged terrorists overseas.

The convictions marked a victory for the Justice Department, which has had limited success in prosecuting charity groups suspected of financial ties to al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The defunct group, Care International Inc., described itself as a charity for Muslim refugees, widows and orphans. Prosecutors said, however, that the organization distributed a newsletter in favor of jihadist causes and lent other support to Islamic militants since its formation in 1993.

In several previous cases, federal prosecutors had unsuccessfully sought to charge leaders of such charities with explicit terrorism-related crimes. But in this case, the Justice Department charged three former Care International leaders with making false statements, tax code violations and conspiracy to defraud the government.

Emadeddin Muntasser, 43, the group's founder, and Muhammed Mubayyid, 42, a former treasurer, were convicted on all counts. Samir al-Monla, 50, a former Care International president, was convicted on all counts but one. He was acquitted on a false statement charge. Officials said the defendants could face 10 to 19 years in prison.

"Today's verdict is a milestone in our efforts against those who conceal their support for extremist causes behind the veil of humanitarianism," Kenneth L. Wainstein, assistant attorney general for national security, said in a statement.

Prosecutors presented evidence alleging that the group obtained tax deductible donations to support "mujahadeen" fighters overseas. The Justice Department also detailed meetings between Monla and Afghan warlord Gulbadeen Hekmatyar, who has been designated as a global terrorist by the State Department.

Prosecutors also alleged that the group was an outgrowth and successor to the Al-Kifah Refugee Center, which had been accused of ties to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

David Duncan, one of the attorneys representing Muntasser, said his client plans to appeal. "We did not think the evidence was strong," Duncan said. "There was no evidence of money going to fighters anywhere."

Read the article here. There is much more on the evidence underlying these convictions at the Counterrorism Blog. This is a real success, but it also points up the difficulty of dealing directly with terrorism through the criminal justice system.

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