Ponca City pediatrician disputes allegations against Holy Land Foundation

Thursday, July 29th 2004, 5:40 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- A Ponca City pediatrician disputes claims by federal prosecutors that a Muslim charity he sat on the board of provided funding for a terrorist group.

The Holy Land Foundation was founded to help children, Ahmad Agha said in interviews with The Oklahoman and Oklahoma City television station KWTV.

"We started from the beginning to see what can we do to bring some hope to these kids there that lost some hope and stop them from these crazy acts of suicide bombing and killing," Agha said Wednesday.

A federal grand jury in Dallas issued a 42-count indictment Tuesday claiming the Holy Land Foundation provided more than $12.4 million to individuals and organizations linked to Hamas.

Attorney General John Ashcroft said the Holy Land Foundation exploited "good hearts to secretly fund violence and murder."

But Agha, who isn't named in the indictment, said the only goal of the foundation was to help children, no matter who they were.

"Well for heaven's sake a child is a child," he said. "I cannot sort children by saying, your father is a suicide bomber and therefore you go die. We can't do that. Children are children wherever they are, whatever religion they are, whatever color they are."

The foundation, once the largest Muslim charity in the United States, received more than $57 million in donations from 1992 through 2001, the panel found. Most of the money was sent to Hamas organizations in the West Bank and Gaza, the grand jury alleged.

Agha said the charity is looking forward to its day in court to publicly fight the accusations that have been coming since Sept. 11, 2001.

"Maybe it's good because we have been asking the government to give us a hearing for a long time because we believe we are innocent of all these charges," he said.

The federal government froze the assets of the Holy Land Foundation in December 2001.

Earlier this month, the foundation's board chairman, Ghassan Elashi, was convicted for illegally selling computers through a business to countries that support terrorism.

Besides the foundation and Elashi, the group's president, Shukri Abu Baker; executive director Haitham Maghawri; and four others were indicted.

Agha said he and other supporters of the Holy Land Foundation are civic-minded individuals and not terrorists.

Agha has practiced medicine in Ponca City for 28 years and is chairman of Ponca City Tomorrow, a board member of Northern Oklahoma Youth Services and is on several other city boards.