WASHINGTON (Mar. 2)
American prosecutors may finally have the chance to prove their accusations that Hamas uses money raised in the United States to facilitate terrorist attacks against Israel.
Israel over the weekend made public the December arrest of a Palestinian accused of channeling U.S. donations to families of Hamas suicide bombers.
Israeli authorities have accused Mohammed Anati, the director of the Holy Land Foundation in Israel, of funneling to Hamas members hundreds of thousands of dollars a month raised primarily in the United States by the American branch of the Holy Land Foundation, which is based in Texas.
Although many details remain unknown, the charges say Anati served as the foundation’s director from 1993 until Israel banned the group in May 1997.
Sources said Anati has traveled to the United States to supervise the transfer of funds.
According to an American counterterrorism official, U.S. authorities have opened an investigation into the Texas-based Holy Land Foundation’s relationship to Hamas.
U.S. law-enforcement officials are weighing the evidence with an eye toward prosecuting Holy Land Foundation officials under the 1996 anti-terrorism law that bans fund raising in the United States for known terrorist groups, including Hamas.
The Israelis staged a December raid on Anati’s group near the West Bank town of Ramallah and seized a cache of documents that appear to link the U.S. group to its Israeli counterpart, sources said.
Israel timed the raid to coincide with a visit from officials of the U.S. Justice and Treasury departments, according to U.S. officials.
Omar Saleem, national programs director at the Holy Land Foundation in Texas, vehemently denied any direct involvement with Hamas or the Holy Land Foundation in Israel.
“We’re in the humanitarian business,” Saleem said in a telephone interview.
“Our money goes to hospitals, orphanages and building mosques in troubled areas,” including the Gaza Strip, West Bank and Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.
But “none of the money goes to a particular family of a martyr,” he said.
He said that despite the similar names, the groups had separate boards of directors and that none of the almost $4 million raised by the American group last year went to the Holy Land Foundation in Israel.
But investigative journalist Steven Emerson testified last month in Congress that an appeal for donations by the group implicates the organization in raising money for “martyrs.”
“Yes. I can and want to help needy families of Palestinian martyrs, prisoners and deportees,” says the pledge card distributed to potential donors at a conference.
U.S. law does not distinguish between different branches of hamas. Hamas officials claim their military wing, which has claimed responsibility for many suicide attacks against Israelis, is separate from their humanitarian operation.
While officials inside the U.S. government preached caution as U.S. law- enforcement personnel translate and analyze the documents found by Israel, some terrorism experts outside the government called the Israeli arrest a “smoking gun.”
“The documents clearly show that the Holy Land Foundation was aware of where the money is going,” said Emerson, who has tracked domestic terrorist groups.
Sources said the documents included a ledger of recipients, including families of bombers who died in suicide attacks.
While most observers said it is too early in the investigation to determine if charges will be brought against the Holy Land Foundation, many said the case seems to be a good test of the Clinton administration’s will to enforce its anti-terrorism legislation.
“Providing monthly stipends for the families of these indiscriminate murderers encourages others to take similar actions in the future,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League.
The ADL worked with members of Congress on the legislation that bans domestic fund raising by overseas terrorist groups.
“If these allegations prove true, those responsible at the Holy Land Foundation are in clear violation of U.S. law and should be prosecuted fully,” Foxman said.