For years the Arab- Islamic organizations in the United States failed to understand who was ruining their plans- who was destroying the extensive money-laundering and fund raising network they had built by taking advantage of American openness and innocence. Money flowed from the United States to Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the territories as well as to Al Qaeda in Chechniya, Bosnia and the Phillipines an every corner where Islamic fundamentalism had managed to plant a stake.
Now it has become known, that behind a significant part of the operations against them stood a woman. These people, who were honored citizens, guests at the White House, contributors to Presidential and Congressional candidates, were now being led in handcuffs in the middle of the night by the FBI- because of her. Their offices were closed, their members deported from the United States and their ?charity organizations? declared terrorist organizations. And not just any woman had done this, but a Jewish woman born in Iraq, and worst of all- Israeli.
Islamic leaders realized who had done this only recently when they read her book ?Terrorist Hunter? which came out in the beginning of May, authored by ?Anonymous?. The documents published in the book match those that led to the arrest of investigation and deportation of those who stood at the juncture between terror and money.
A woman, Jewish and the mother of four, is the subject. She appeared on May 4th on the CBS television program ?60 Minutes? using the cover name ?Sarah?. She wore a wig, a mask which changed her appearance and her voice was distorted.
In the broadcast she described her infiltration of Islamic charity organizations? strongholds. She led television cameras to 555 Grove Street in a rundown suburb of Washington, as the place where she uncovered documents by digging through the dumpster which indicate the basis of suspicion that Saudi Arabia is involved on the laundering of money.
Nearly one- hundred organizations and companies work in that building. Two of the companies registered as owners of the building have now submitted an 80 million dollar defamation lawsuit against CBS and the woman, whose real name appeared in the court papers submitted: Rita Katz.
The examination of the trash in the dumpster is the basis of the claim. In this way they are hoping to silence her and the Search for International Terrorist Entities, an organization that she runs.
I have known Rita Katz for several years as a courageous activist against the economic infrastructure for the financing of terror that took root in the United States during the eighties and nineties. She did not only examine trash to gather her evidence. She also spent weekends in mosques and various meetings of charity organizations that were designed to cover up fundraising for Hamas and Islamic Jihad. While pregnant she endangered her life by disguising herself as an Arab woman, armed with t hidden camera, and gaining entrance to the meeting of Muslim charity organizations in order to document the events- the fundraising, the strong and vocal hatred- not just of Jews but also of the United States- and the plots being hatched there.
A claim for 80 million dollars could put a person off balance and silence him. And that is exactly what the plaintiffs had hoped for when they sued Rita Katz. But this week in her office, somewhere in the Washington area, the walls of which bear a flowchart illustrating the ways in which money is transferred, and with photographs of the people she is targeting, she sounded more eager to do battle than ever.
?They want to silence me and my organization because over the past several years we have hunted them, the organizations and individuals who support terror,? says Katz. ?I have led the United States government to investigate the money flowing to terrorist organizations. This is the largest investigation of its kind in the history of the United States. On the 20th and 21st of March 18 offices, corporations and homes were simultaneously searched, more than 100 warrants for companies were issued, computers and thousands of documents were confiscated. All of this happened in the wake of my investigation.?
Considering the fact that Rita has been n the United States for only a few years, her accomplishment is truly remarkable. She was born to a wealthy Jewish family in Basra. When the Baath regime led by Abu Bachar and Saddam Hussein took power her world was destroyed. Her father, Fuad Gabbai, was arrested and accused of spying for Israel in a show trial that took place behind closed doors. He was one of nine people put to death by the regime in 1969.
In her book Rita described the day on which her father was executed: My father was hung together with another eight Jews in the central square of Baghdad. The execution was in the middle of the day, while the atmosphere was one of national celebration and half a million joyous Iraqis watched. Traveling in all the trains and buses in the country was free that day so that lots of people could come to Baghdad to see the hanging. Flags were waved, music was played, belly dancers danced beneath the hanging corpses. The television broadcast pictures of the hanging over and over again. At four in the afternoon the corpses were brought down to the street, so that the crowds could drag them.
Rita did not know anything about her father?s fate at the time. Three years later her mother managed to save the family in a courageous operation which ended in the Kurdish mountains in the arms of an Israeli emissary who transferred them top another country from which they were flown to Israel.
When they arrived, her family settled in Bat Yam. Of her father?s fate she first learned when she was 17 years-old, when she found a story in the archive of ?HaAretz?, in which there was a picture of the 9 hanging Jews in the central square of Baghdad, among whom her father appeared.
Several years ago she arrived in the United States. Her background, her fluency in Arabic, and the knowledge she had acquired while a student of Eastern studies at Tel Aviv University allowed her to receive work at the Institute for Middle East Studies. ?All I really wanted was to make a living. But I discovered much more than that,? says Katz, ?I read documents of the Holy Land Fund (whose purpose is the provision of funding to Hamas in the guise of humanitarian aid) in which the Arabic names of organizations associated with Hamas are mentioned. They were not mentioned in the English documents, and I began to realize that the United States serves a base for funding Palestinian terror.?
Rita Katz devoted herself to this task and began to bring tapes, testimony, and documents but the American institution began to relate to her claims only after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. She is now an advisor to federal law enforcement agencies. Well-respected newspapers, including the Wall street Journal and the New York Times, use her services when preparing an investigative story on terror financing.
?They came to me after the attacks and requested help,? she says, ?The Treasury established a body to investigate finances used to support terror. We worked on this for several long months, and then a year ago there was the big arrest spree.?
There are still no indictments?
?When federal law enforcement agencies carry out arrests in the United States, they do so only after they have enough prima facie evidence to establish a connection to terror. There is now an open investigation. We are speaking of nearly one hundred organizations, front companies and brokers designed to transfer money to, among others, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Even today we do not know exactly how this worked. We know they established a big operation here for the laundering of money.
Who is running the investigation?
Until now it was Customs, Immigration and the Treasury. Now the FBI is trying to take over the investigation in a very aggressive way. The FBI was embarrassed that it was not unable to uncover what the Treasury had. There is a struggle. In the end they will establish a joint investigation.
The matter has not yet been completely deciphered. How ill you defend yourself in court?
?This is the wet-dream of every terrorism investigator. The trial will force them to reveal every document I wanted to lay my hands on as an investigator but couldn?t get before. This will expose their network in court. Now they will have to answer every question I ask in court. I know a huge amount about them. I don?t think there is anyone else who knows as much about them as I do. They?ve read the book and been amazed at the amount of information there. You file a lawsuit because you are scared. They have nothing to lose. They are being investigated. Their fancy houses were searched. They have been degraded. We?re talking about the leaders of the Arab communities, millionaires. Not hose who lived in a shack in transit camps, but people who have been guests at the White House. People with connections in the uppermost echelons, whose every travel is reported in the Arab world. Suddenly their house is being searched and they are being arrested.?
But against you there is a tremendous claim filed.
?They are suing me for digging through their garbage several years ago. I tried to understand what was going on. I took documents out that explained the connection between all the organizations and bodies in a particular building. The connection is Saudi Arabia.?
How did you collect the documents?
?I took several young men and a truck and we came to take the garbage in the middle of the night, dressed in black with gloves and garbage bags. In this way I came to connect the Saudi families with the financing of these organizations and from there I began. We are speaking principally of one particular extremely wealthy family in Saudi Arabia that controls banks, poultry companies, printing houses, clothing, plastic, whatever you can think of. Two of the bodies from this building sued me since they own the area, but the same people manage dozens of funds and different companies.?
Why don?t the Saudis send money to Hamas and Islamic Jihad directly? Why launder it in America?
?Because money cannot be sent directly to Israel, which controls the bank accounts.?
They can?t send the money with emissaries?
?It is impossible to send a lot, and this is not the way of the Saudis. They operate in a seemingly ?clean? fashion. Their goal is not to finance Palestinian terror, but to finance Islamic fundamentalism in the world.?
How much money has been transferred?
I examined their tax returns after September 11th. Every charity organization has to report how much money was collected and how much was distributed. The SAAR organization received 1.7 billion dollars in 1998. Afterwards they claimed there had been a mistake. In 2000 they reported that the organization was closed, which was one of many. They had 11 million dollars worth of shares, and then they announced that because of bad market conditions that had been forced to sell at a loss and their value was only 2 million dollars. What company did they buy? The Sterling Fund. I checked and discovered that these are the very same people. In this way they laundered 9 million dollars.?
?They invested for years in chicken farms in Georgia, which is the best way of laundering money. It is very difficult to track the movements of chickens. You can always claim that there were losses in a given year and that ten million chickens died. Go prove it.?
So why did you write the book and expose yourself?
I had a lot of doubt as to whether to write the book after I got the offer to write it. It was important to me to give the knowledge I had acquired about Islamic terror and fundamentalism to the American people. It is important that people here understand what is happening right under their noses. Islamic fundamentalism exists not only in Afghanistan but also in the mosques in the United States, where a new generation planning Jihad against the United States has grown, a generation who hates Christians and Jews and the United States. And that Saudi Arabia is the largest inciter and sponsor of terrorism.?
Now you?re through?
?I am continuing as usual. Adopting more security measures but everything as usual. Their goal was to cause me to give up, so everyone will know my face and I could no longer show up at their meetings and people would be afraid to work with me. It?s ridiculous. Yesterday a friend from the FBI called me and said: ?Welcome to the club.? When you get sued it?s a sign that you?re doing good work.?
?They won?t knock me down. I am proud of what I have done. I will continue doing it and the message I?m giving them is ?Don?t think that if you find out my identity me there won?t be someone else who comes to your events. There will be someone watching to expose you.?