- Director Rita Katz and Analyst James Mitre, in the National Review Online detail how money is sent to support terrorism as a cause, not to specific terrorist groups. In the U.S., there is a clear collaboration between the financial network that supports Hamas, and the one that supports al-Qaeda.
In spite of our government's stepped up efforts to combat the flow of money to al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden's army of terrorists continues to receive the funding it needs to remain threatening. It has been over a year since 9/11 and only a handful of al Qaeda's U.S. financial backers have been curtailed. Information about who funds al Qaeda and how they do so largely remains a mystery. One fact, however, has become clear: U.S. money earmarked for al Qaeda comes from the same source as money earmarked for the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas. As a result, success in stemming the flow of money from the U.S. to al Qaeda will require shutting down the financiers of Hamas along with those of al Qaeda.
While bin Laden and his top officers oversee the membership and organization of al Qaeda's operational cells, they do not exert the same level of control over their sources of funding. In fact, a large portion of al Qaeda's revenues are provided by individuals and organizations that share the terrorist group's extremist ideology, but are not themselves al Qaeda members. These sources are the primary financial backers of Islamic extremism. They donate to the general cause - Islamic extremism - and the terrorist groups that represent it. That is why the U.S. financiers of Islamic extremism fund both al Qaeda and Hamas.
Primarily through the use of nonprofit organizations, U.S. supporters of al Qaeda and Hamas have been able to generate and distribute money to both of these terrorist groups.
One example of the overlap between the al Qaeda and Hamas financial networks is the case of the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO). Ostensibly a charitable organization, IIRO is headquartered in Saudi Arabia and has a branch in Virginia. U.S., Canadian, and Philippine intelligence documents have exposed IIRO's funding of al Qaeda over the past decade. Through U.S. and Israeli investigations, it has become clear that IIRO also funds Hamas. Documents were discovered in the Palestinian territories earlier this year that detail an IIRO program devised to financially compensate the families of Hamas suicide bombers.
For years, the government has failed to recognize the extent of overlap between the Hamas and al Qaeda U.S. financial networks. In 1998, the FBI revealed that the Saudi businessman Yassin al-Qadi was funneling money to the head of Hamas's military wing through a U.S. nonprofit. Despite their discovery of al-Qadi's key role in financing Islamic terrorism, the government did not take action against him, perhaps because Hamas poses a relatively low threat to U.S. interests. To bin Laden's benefit, al-Qadi continued to fund Islamic terrorism after 1998, the year al Qaeda bombed two U.S. embassies in Africa. Al-Qadi was able to finance al Qaeda partly through another nonprofit of his that had a U.S. presence. Following 9/11, the U.S. finally took action against al-Qadi by designating him as an al Qaeda financier and freezing his assets. Yet the question remains, how impaired would al Qaeda have been if one of its largest benefactors had been eliminated three years before 9/11?
Another point of contact between the al Qaeda and Hamas U.S. financial networks is in the cooperation between two charities: the Benevolence International Foundation (BIF) of Illinois and the Texas-based Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF). The U.S. recently froze the assets of BIF and designated it as a terrorist entity for supporting al Qaeda. BIF's head, Enaam Arnaout, sits in jail for providing material support to terrorists. Instead of opening its own office in the Palestinian territories, BIF addressed the plight of Palestinians through an agreement it arranged to work with HLF. Acting as the U.S. arm of Hamas, HLF was designated as a terrorist entity by President Bush and had its assets frozen last December. BIF's decision to ally itself with the U.S. arm of Hamas in favor of establishing its own operations in the Palestinian territories is indicative of the strong bond between these two networks.
HLF's collaboration with al Qaeda may extend beyond that of its work with BIF. When U.S. and Kenyan investigators raided the home of Osama bin Laden's financial manager, Wadih el-Hage, in 1997, they discovered another potential al Qaeda/HLF connection. In el-Hage's seized phone book was the ominous statement "joint venture" written beside the HLF entry. El-Hage has been convicted for his role in facilitating al Qaeda's 1998 U.S. embassy bombings and is currently serving a life sentence in a U.S. prison.
The trend illustrated in the overlapping Hamas and al Qaeda U.S. financial networks is an outgrowth of a much larger phenomenon of collaborating terrorist financiers. The indiscretion displayed by financial backers of Islamic extremism mandates that an effective war on al Qaeda must target all the financial providers of Islamic extremism. Disregarding the financiers of Islamic terrorist groups other than al Qaeda ensures the future financial health of Osama bin Laden's disciples.
- Rita Katz is the director and James Mitre is an analyst at the SITE Institute .