A Mesa man who the FBI believed was a threat to national security was sentenced Thursday to 18 months in federal prison for lying to the FBI during an international terrorist investigation into an organization that funded Hamas.
According to federal court documents, Akram Abdallah, aka Abu Saiaf, 55, a Jordanian, was sentenced by Judge Neil Wake in the U.S. District Court in Phoenix, 10 months after pleading guilty to one count of making false statements to a government agency, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
In January 2007, Abdallah lied to FBI agents when he was interviewed in connection to an investigation and prosecution of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development and its officers, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Phoenix. The Holy Land Foundation funded the terrorist organization Hamas, which is dedicated to the destruction of Israel and once was the largest Islamic charity in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Treasury.
Abdallah's sentence marks the first time a U.S. District Court judge invoked the enhancement of the offense in Arizona for lying to a government agency in an international terrorism investigation, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
During the course of the investigation into Abdallah, the FBI cultivated information that ultimately became classified and was sealed by court order because it involved national security, according to federal court documents.
Abdallah had moved to Arizona from New Jersey in 1993, when the FBI tapped his telephone lines and kept the tap on for the next 16 years, according to Abdallah's attorney, Joseph Shemaria of Los Angeles.
In a statement, U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke said, "This sentence should serve as a strong warning to anyone who knowingly lies during a terrorism investigation. It is important that the public cooperate in investigations involving national security for the safety and security of all people in the United States, and that in those investigations members of the public are truthful and complete in their statements to law enforcement."
Shemaria told the Tribune on Thursday that he wasn't "tickled pink" with the sentence, but it was what he and his client reached in the plea agreement.
"Mr. Abdallah was not happy, but he's glad it's over," Shemaria said of the case. "In my opinion, it was not an investigation he lied during, but an interview the FBI called him in for, and unfortunately, Mr. Abdallah went into it without an attorney."
During interviews with the FBI, Abdallah denied he was involved in fundraising activities for the Holy Land Foundation based in Richardson, Texas, when in fact, he was involved in numerous fundraising activities between 1994 and 1997, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
At the time of the interviews, Abdallah knew the Holy Land Foundation was a specifically designated terrorist organization and knew that the foundation's officers were pending trial for crimes including providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Shemaria also said that he believed Abdallah's sentence was "payback" from the FBI's long-running investigation into the Holy Land Foundation in Texas, where three former officers of the Holy Land Foundation received heftier federal sentences for their involvement with Hamas.
The FBI had wanted Abdallah to testify against the group of Holy Land Foundation officers there, and he wouldn't, according to Shemaria.
The Holy Land Foundation was shut down in 2001.