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01/22/2010

Holy Land Foundation representative arrested

DETROIT - A Syrian native with known ties to a terrorist organization made his initial appearance in federal court Friday in Detroit on an indictment charging him with attempted naturalization fraud, false statements and perjury.

U.S. Attorney Barbara L. McQuade announced today that Mohamad Mustapha Ali Masfaka, a 47-year-old native of Syria, was arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents after he was encountered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection when he attempted to enter the United States from Canada via the Ambassador Bridge.

Joining in the announcement was Brian Moskowitz, Special Agent in Charge for the ICE, Office of Investigations for Ohio and Michigan, and Andrew Arena, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Detroit Division.

"The arrest puts in motion the criminal prosecution and the process of removing from the United States an alien with known ties to a Treasury Department Designated Terrorist Organization. This individual went to great lengths to avoid apprehension and will now face justice," said Moskowitz.

The indictment charges Mohamad Masfaka with lying to federal officials about his involvement with the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF), an organization that was designated by the U.S. Department of Treasury on December 4, 2001, as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist organization.

HLF was created in 1988 as a non-profit tax exempt charitable organization purportedly to assist needy individuals in the West Bank and Gaza. In addition to its main office in Richardson, Texas, HLF maintained offices in Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza and in other cities throughout the United States, including Detroit, Michigan.

On November 24, 2008, a federal jury in Dallas, Texas convicted HLF and five of its employees of 21 charges, including providing millions of dollars in material support to the designated terrorist organization Hamas. Masfaka's indictment alleges that he was employed by HLF in 1997 and 1998 and ran the HLF operations in the Detroit area to include organizing and participating in fund raising events for the HLF.

The indictment charges Masfaka with lying to both the FBI and ICE officials about his involvement with the HLF while the FBI was investigating that organization on criminal terrorism charges and in an attempt to gain U.S. citizenship. If convicted, Masfaka faces up to 23 years imprisonment and $750,000 in fines.

An indictment is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt. A defendant is entitled to a fair trial in which it will be the government's burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

The prosecution is being handled by Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark J. Jebson and Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth R. Chadwell.