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Background on the case of Sheikh Mohamad Al-Moayad and Mohamad Zayad
On March 10, 2005, Sheikh Mohamad Al-Moayad and Mohamad Zayad were convicted on charges of providing "material support" to Hamas, in one of the more egregious frame-up cases of the U.S. government's so-called "war on terror." Far from being a prosecution aimed at safeguarding the United States, the government sought out two Yemeni citizens, well-known for their numerous charitable endeavors, and brought them to the U.S. for the sole purpose of prosecuting them for their entirely legal activities in Yemen, at the sole instigation of a notoriously unreliable informant who has repeatedly pressured the FBI itself for more money for his services. During the trial of these men, the government attempted to block the entry of a Palestinian-born defense attorney into the case, alleging that her "foreign-born" status posed an "increased risk." The prejudice and racism of the prosecution was revealed on numerous occasions, including one prosecutor's reference to a Qu'ranic verse as the "terrorist verse." This case is a microcosm of the reality of the "war on terror" inside the U.S., what has proven to be a "war of terror" against Arabs and Muslims.
Please read the summary of the case below to learn about the background, and to find out what you can do to support these victims of persecution.
Sheikh Moayad: Father of the Orphans
Sheikh Mohamad Al-Moayad's love for the oppressed and indigent was born in his childhood years. Sheikh Moayad was born in May of 1948 to a peasant family in Safya, a suburb of Sanaa, Yemen, the son of a village teacher who was paid by the village parents with only meager amounts of food or personal effects. He soon shared in his father's tradition of service to the community; in the 1970s he built the first dam in Sanaa, to help distribute water more effectively.
The Sheikh moved to Madinat Al Asbahi, Yemen, in the early 1980s and, after noticing the town lacked a mosque, he opened his home to the community for worship and prayer. He soon successfully petitioned the Yemeni government to provide land so he could build a house of worship, and began by digging and developing a basement prayer room that would later find use as a community shelter during the Yemeni Civil War. The longer he stayed in Madinat Al Asbahi, the more he saw the need for community development in many areas, and expanded his religious endeavors and community service to fulfill those needs. He expanded his mosque to build a women's section, and later turned his basement room into a small elementary school.
By the early 1990s, Sheikh Moayad's reputation for honesty, charity and grassroots activism was widespread. He founded a charity operation, the Al Ihsan Charitable Organization, which became something akin to a welfare system for the people of the area, and which was widely supported by the government and many other charitable donors. He opened a bakery which fed eight hundred families per day and, to be sure that none suffered out of shame or humility, he asked community men to make note of which families looked indigent and provided for them without request. Knowing bread, no matter how fortified, could not alone sustain life, he opened a charitable market where the indigent paid wholesale prices for food and provided a steady water supply for those who could not otherwise afford water from the well he had dug for the Ihsan Mosque.
The Sheikh then began to focus his energy on education hoping that it would provide a lasting means to eradicate the poverty in the community. He expanded his school until it accommodated students from kindergarten through high school, as well as established a girls' school and personally intervened in cases where families withheld their daughters from schooling. He knew the value of skill building and developed specialized trade schools. The Sheikh's initiatives were almost endless and addressed all aspects of daily life, individual and communal - from the orphan fund project, blanket distribution, and full meal provisions during the month of Ramadan, to coordination of group weddings for indigent groomsmen, to holistic healing, computer training courses and a free medical clinic.
Sheikh Moayad is father to seven children, the youngest of whom is now 16. However, he eventually came to be known as the 'Father of the Orphans' throughout the Sanaa area. Because of his widely known reputation for charity, he was eventually appointed as the honorary supervisor of the Al Aqsa Foundation. But it was long before this appointment that he was an avid supporter of the Palestinian struggle for liberation and return. He visited the refugee camps of Lebanon, Syria and Jordan and resolved that true justice could not be attained without full implementation of the Right of Return. Through the Al Aqsa Foundation, Sheikh Moayad helped raise money for Palestinians in refugee camps and those in the most devastated areas of Palestine, often in the form of tangible supplies, such as schoolbooks and book bags, nutritional supplies and clothes.
Upon his arrest for charges based upon his well-known and widely respected charity work, the whole of Yemen was aroused to action, especially the people of Sanaa and Madinat Al Asbahi. Thousands of men and women took to the streets over a two year period in numerous demonstrations demanding the release of the Sheikh and his assistant, Mohamad Zayed. The Yemeni President, Ali Abdallah Saleh, made clear that the Sheikh was never suspected of having links to Al Qaeda, and further noted that if the Sheikh had ever supported Hamas, it was legal for him to do so, as in Yemen all support the Palestinian struggle on Palestinian terms. In vain, the Yemeni government made several public demands for the return of Sheikh Moayad and Mohamad Zayed.
Background of the Case:
Sheikh Mohamad Al-Moayad and Mohamad Zayed were arrested in Germany on January 10, 2003 after being set up by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. One of the FBI's Confidential Informants, Mohamad Al Ansi, a known con man with a long history of theft, fraud, burglary and financial problems, who later set himself on fire in front of the White House in November 2004 in an attempt to garner more money from the FBI, initiated the operation against Sheikh Moayad and Mohamad Zayad. Al Ansi had a long history of defrauding Islamic organizations and charities in the eastern region, stealing their property, running up phone bills, using public and private services of individuals and masajid for his and his family's luxury, before, after and during his 'employment' by the FBI. Al Ansi, a then out-of-status immigrant, saw the danger of deportation and found an escape hatch in the horrors of 9-11, contacting a novice FBI agent, one who had just joined the Terrorism Task Force and was eager to find 'targets' in his patriotic way.
Al Ansi told the FBI of a Sheikh who was famous in Yemen, and claimed that this Sheikh was supporting Al Qaeda and mujahidin in various parts of the Muslim World; at one point Al Ansi even included North Korea as one of the Sheikh's benefactors, clearly taking his cues from the Bush Administration's reports and, likely, from the needs of the FBI Agents. Within approximately one month of their first meeting, the FBI sent Al Ansi to Yemen to begin his investigation. It should also be noted that neither the FBI nor the Yemeni government, which had well-publicized interactions with Sheikh Moayad, had ever suspected Sheikh Moayad or his charity of anything prior to having met Mohamad Al Ansi, even though both the U.S. and Yemeni governments were actively waging the "war on terror," publicly pursuing any challenge to U.S./Israeli interests in Yemen.
During the year that followed, Al Ansi and the FBI agents based in Yemen were able to produce only four pieces of "evidence:" three receipts from donations sent to Palestinian charities which were not designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs), and one thirty-minute video shot from a five-day group wedding in Yemen, at which the Hamas representative to Yemen spoke. According to the FBI, this scanty "evidence" was sufficient to charge Sheikh Moayad and Mohamad Zayad with providing material support to Al Qaeda. Essentially, the FBI's logic must have flowed in one of two ways: that there is no differentiation between support for Palestinian charitable organizations and support for Al Qaeda, as both stand in the way of U.S. interests in the Arab world; or, that the use of "Al Qaeda" was merely a cover for the FBI's targeting of individuals and organizations who support Palestinian charitable organizations or have affiliations with Hamas, who must be targeted in order to enforce the adoption of the U.S.'s position on Palestine throughout the Arab world and suppress Arab support of the Palestinian struggle.
This led to a very expensive trap in Germany. Another Agent became involved, Agent "Sharif", who was told to pose as a former Black Panther who supports "Jihadist causes," such as, in the words of as FBI Agent BM, supporting the 'civil rights movement.'
At the meeting arranged in Germany by the FBI, Agent "Sharif" said that he has money and has heard of the Sheikh's establishment and wants to support him. Al Ansi relayed this information to the "targets," Sheikh Moayad and Mohamad Zayad, and told them also to "play along" with "Sharif," who he described as "a little crazy." All the while, Al Ansi repeatedly mistranslated to both Agent "Sharif' and Sheikh Moayad and Zayad, as he was the only linguistic link between the parties. As "Sharif" reads the Qu'ran, stating that it is the basis of their meeting, Sheikh Moayad and Zayad smile and agree, thinking he is a holy man who wants to help them support their charity work. When it becomes clear that "Sharif" wants them to direct the funds to activities other than the charitable center, Moayad and Zayad expressed their disapproval, to which "Sharif" responded, 'I know what you're here for and I will give you what you want if you give me what I want.' Sheikh Moayad and Zayad were intimidated and clearly expressed their fear and apprehension, and from the scant recordings that exist of this meeting, it is evident that they are plotting to avoid following Agent "Sharif's" orders and are planning to use the money to build their charitable center. And although the only incriminating conversations they had were with Agent "Sharif," through the translation of Al Ansi, Moayad and Zayad were arrested in Germany by masked officers three days after their arrival in the country.
They were held in Germany for approximately six months and deported to the United States in November 2003. Attorney General John Ashcroft hyperbolically announced the arrest, claiming that Moayad was the "big fish" they had been looking for, conveniently just in time for the upcoming U.S. elections. As the evidence against Sheikh Moayad and Zayad was revealed, the lie was put to Ashcroft's claims, as he was only able to show that Moayad supported Palestinians in Palestine and surrounding Palestinian refugee camps in Arab countries, and that Moayad knew of Hamas figures in the Arab World, both legal acts throughout the Arab World, Africa and some European states. Perhaps, however, he did meet his real goal, not of "combating terrorism," but of suppressing Arab advocacy and support for Palestine.
What Went Wrong: Elections, Israel, World Policing and Uncontrolled Power
The Defense Attorneys: Government Paid and Delayed
Sheikh Moayad filed complaints against his attorney for a year and a half, yet the judge did nothing to address his complaints. Moayad made clear that his then-assigned counsel was interested in nothing but cutting a deal with the FBI, having Moayad become a government informant, and convincing Moayad to accept money and a plea bargain in exchange for his right to be judged by the law of his own land -Yemen. When independent counsel became involved, it was only weeks before trial. None of the tapes in Germany had been transcribed and no investigative work had been initiated. The new attorneys begged for time to prepare, to no avail. Furthermore, a Palestinian-born attorney was kept from admission to the case and court for approximately one month after the new attorneys appeared because as the government said, "as a foreign-born attorney, she posed an increased risk of passing messages from the Sheikh." She was also administratively prevented from meeting with the Sheikh outside of the courtroom for several weeks after she was finally admitted, which the government claimed was a mere administrative faux pas. Despite the efforts of the new, independent legal team, the effects of a year of almost no trial preparation were devastating. The court-appointed attorney was not relieved and was allowed to make strategic decisions, the new counsel worked tirelessly but fearfully, and the Palestinian attorney was censored.
The Extradition: FBI lies and racism
In his affidavit, FBI Agent "RF" swore that he had evidence that Al Moayad sent millions to Al Qaeda and Hamas. The agent was never held accountable for these allegations, which were proven false at trial. In fact, the government only showed that little more than $30,000 was sent to Palestinian organizations, none of which were designated as FTO's. In fact, one of the receipts explicitly thanked the Al Aqsa Foundation for its donation of school bags. The government failed to show that any money had ever gone to Al Qaeda, and the only connection they showed between Sheikh Moayad's charitable work and the U.S. were phone calls and a donation from a Sheikh in New York to Sheikh Moayad, amounting to less than two thousand dollars over a period of several years. The only allegation the government confirmed was that Al Moayad had indeed fundraised for Palestinian charities.
The allegation that these charities may be connected to Hamas, although untrue, would not suffice for extradition to the U.S., as Hamas' charitable wing is still lawful in Germany and has a public presence there. The foundation for the extradition was in fact non-existent. Furthermore, the FBI translator-agents repeatedly mistranslated the Arabic language. One translator-agent said the word "jihad" can only mean "holy war against non-Muslims" and translated the word "students" as "female slaves" at one point. The FBI used these dubious translations to pursue extradition from Germany. Furthermore, the FBI's practices were not uncommon to their German equivalent, the BKA. In fact, one of the German-Arabic translators used had previously testified to fabricating conversations, or as he said, "re-constructing" conversations, in a previous case, yet he continues to work for the BKA.
The Trial of Terror: Prejudice, Poor Goliath and No Jurisdiction
The prosecution made it clear that this trial was indeed political, and furthermore, was indeed about Palestine. Various events in Palestine were brought into the trial on the basis of dubious and tenuous connections to the actual facts of the case. One prosecutor actually cried in court as she recounted a 2001 bus bombing in Tel Aviv. The prosecution was able to bring in such issues with no connection to the defendants, because the Hamas representative to Yemen who was present at the group wedding, which was also attended by numerous Yemeni government officials, mentioned it right before he read poetry at the group wedding. Several days later, she issued headphones to pre-pubescent Yeshiva children who lined the courtroom in what was a clearly orchestrated sympathy ploy with no connection to Sheikh Moayad or Mohamad Zayad. This prosecutor also opened the Qu'ran and forced the timid Muslim court interpreters to translate what she called the "terrorist verse." It is also known as Surat Al-Bakarah and is known for teaching readers how to avoid conflict.
The FBI: Desperate and Powerful Witness Tampering & Intimidation:
Aside from limiting the participation of the Palestinian attorney, the Government repeatedly intimidated witnesses and prevented witnesses for the defense from appearing. Two of Zayed's witnesses were scared out of travelling after their first visas were given and subsequently revoked, and the two who were allowed into the US were harassed, their evidence and their belongings violated, and allowed no privacy, even when meeting with defense attorneys. The witnesses came with pictures of Moayad's charitable institutions, half of which were destroyed at the airport where FBI agents met and interrogated the Yemeni witnesses. On their return trip, one of the witnesses' suitcases disappeared. During their stay, they were in the full custody of the FBI, held in a hotel room that was tapped, and prohibited from making from outgoing phone calls - even to their families. They were not allowed to leave the hotel or have any visitors, and were only allowed to meet and prepare with the attorneys in those same rooms the FBI was monitoring.
Moayad's witnesses were never allowed into the US at all, and the Court refused to adjourn until the witnesses were allowed visas; perhaps the Court knew that the visas would never be given. The government complained repeatedly about its court expenses at trial, but managed to bring to the U.S. six German witnesses who testified to two things: that the defendants were followed and their hotel rooms tapped. They were placed in hotels, allowed to travel freely, make unmonitored phone calls and had no problems getting visas.
Another defense witness who had possession of copies of the surveillance tapes and the equipment necessary to identify manipulated footage was visited by the FBI at his home late Sunday evening two days before he was to testify. He was interrogated about his testimony and personal history, and was asked about the confidential conversations he had with the defense attorneys. Two weeks after the trial ended, his home and office were burned down under mysterious circumstances.
The Tapes: Inaudible Arabic
The most crucial piece of evidence in the case was the surveillance footage. According to the plethora of German witnesses, the recordings were complete, contained no missing segments, and were clear. The German technicians found no errors in the tapes until after the tapes were in the custody of American intelligence, the FBI. According to the German technicians, it was the FBI who alerted them to the "problem areas" which German technicians claimed to have attempted to correct. Portions of seemingly incriminating conversations were loud and clear but conversations where Sheikh Moayad and Mohamad Zayed plot to leave Germany and the set-up are full of gaps which make the conversation almost completely inaudible. No one was able to provide a consistent explanation as to the reason for these gaps. In fact, conversations that lasted for close to a minute contained only a few decipherable words. This was representative of the footage taken outside the presence of the government agents; that is, the footage that is necessary to establishing culpability. Furthermore, although the government claimed over and over again that a code was established for communication, not a single tape before, during or after the sting in Germany contained any conversation in code. What the government trumpeted as evidence of a code was a clip where Sheikh Moayad reads to Mohamad Zayed from a millenia-old book as they sat hostage in their hotel rooms in Germany. Ultimately, the jury was convinced of the allegations despite the unreliability of the sole witness. This witness, according to his own testimony, failed to explain what the alleged codes meant and never reported such a code to the FBI agents during the "investigation." His history is that of a career liar and defrauder who, at one point, threatened to blow up a woman's business. Furthermore, according to the government, conversations outside the rooms were recorded via microphones on Al Ansi's body and in the car they used, yet the government refused to submit those recordings or the recordings of the conversations in the undercover agent's rooms. In addition, the government translators mistranslated Arabic conversations repeatedly, gave everyday terms incriminating meanings, and selected snippets of conversation out of their contexts to emphasize and dilute the real meanings conveyed in the entirety of conversations. When the defense attempted to have an expert witness testify as to the unreliability of the government's transcripts, the government objected and was sustained, leaving the jury to make the most of transcripts which were incomplete, artfully mis-tailored, and highly misleading. This was all the more damaging as the government only submitted approximately eight hours of the three-day surveillance and the defense alas was not allowed an adjournment to prepare transcripts of the few remaining portions that the government did turn over.
Throughout the case, the behavior of the U.S. government has been nothing short of criminal. Today, Sheikh Moayad and Mohamad Zayad are imprisoned in the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York, awaiting sentencing after their conviction for providing material support to Hamas, despite acquittal on charges of providing material support to Al Qaeda. They are held in solitary confinement without visitors, while all their phone calls, even to their attorneys are recorded, and without a way to express their needs and demands as they can't even speak English. Yemeni citizens with scant interaction with the U.S., they were nonetheless tried under U.S. laws in a courtroom tainted by a poisonous racism and anti-Muslim rhetoric. Sheikh Mohamad al-Moayad and Mohamad Zayed join many other Arabs and Muslims persecuted under the guise of the "war on terror" amid the criminalization of Arab political activity and Muslim charitable work. However, the stories of these prisoners of conscience remain widely unknown in the United States - allowing the government ever more free reign in its campaigns of persecution.
Your support is urgently needed. Please sign on to and send the letters provided to the judge on the case, the warden and to the Yemeni government. Our voices must be heard to support Arab and Palestinian political prisoners in the United States, lest the voices and the work of many "fathers of the orphans" be lost in U.S. prisons.