Summary: The arrest of convicted Hamas activist and alleged fundraiser Ahmad Saltana (a.k.a. Abu Asama) has focused attention on several organizations in Europe that allegedly pose as charities in order to bankroll terrorist activities. The organizations reportedly implicated in this illegal activity include the UK-based charities Human Appeal International and Interpal.
The arrest of convicted Hamas activist and alleged fundraiser Ahmad Saltana (a.k.a. Abu Asama) (see Eric Silver, “Charity cash for Palestinian poor was siphoned to suicide bombers”, The Independent, November 28, 2005) has focused attention on several organizations in Europe that allegedly pose as charities in order to bankroll terrorist activities.
The organizations reportedly implicated in this illegal activity include the UK-based charities Human Appeal International and Interpal, as well as the Charitable Committee for Supporting Palestine (CBSP) in France, the Charitable Association for Supporting Palestinian People (ABSPP) in Italy and the Al-Aqsa Foundation in various parts of Europe. All form part of the Charity Coalition which allegedly funnels monies raised to Saltana, who in turn distributes the funds to terrorist organizations.
Human Appeal International (HAI) is a UK-registered charity established in 1991, and is currently involved in providing relief for the victims of the earthquake in Pakistan. HAI operates in 17 regions (including such terrorist “hot-spots” as Afghanistan, Chechnya, Iraq, Kashmir, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Authority), with a stated mission “to promote human co-operation through programmes aimed at aiding and relieving the suffering of victims of poverty, social injustice and natural disasters.”
Unlike other organizations, the language in the HAI website section on “Palestine” is devoid of incitement. The appeal claims that donations are applied towards providing nourishment, scarcely hinting at any association with terrorist groups, only stating as part of their mandate to “Co-operate and co-ordinate with other relief organisations working in the same field to increase the benefits for the recipients of our help.”
The second UK-based charity allegedly diverting funds to terrorist cells is Interpal (also known as the Palestinian Relief & Development Fund), which justifies itself as “a non-political, non-profit making British charity that focuses solely on the provision of relief and development aid to the poor and needy of Palestine”. The Interpal logo features the entire map of Israel, symbolically delegitimizing Israel’s existence and claiming the entire territory for the Palestinians, thereby indicating the goal of destroying Israel.
Much like Human Appeal International, Interpal texts refer to a conflict resulting in a humanitarian crisis, but stop short of attributing culpability to any party (Israel, the Palestinian Authority, or terrorist factions). Also like HAI, “INTERPAL’s stated official policy is to deal with like-minded charities both in Britain and abroad in order to further its aims and objectives to provide relief and development aid to the people of Palestine.” The organization claims “that it only deals with bona fide organizations … to ensure the proper charitable use of funds as specified.” Interpal also claims to be “bound by a moral obligation to ensure that the funds are used for charitable purposes”, and while the organization asserts that all partner agencies receiving funding from Interpal are required to submit comprehensive documentation, including receipts and reports, no such evidence is presented on its website. The only indication that Interpal’s activities might extend beyond relief work is the following statement: “Although the humanitarian needs of the refugee population is at the forefront of the Palestinian problem, the work of international NGOs is not confined to providing services and opportunities for refugees.”
However, Interpal’s reported direct involvement in terror has been thoroughly demonstrated. Three days after the August 19, 2003 bombing of the No.2 Egged bus in Jerusalem, the United States government froze Interpal’s US assets and classified the organization as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT), together with several other Hamas front organizations and senior Hamas officials (including Yassin and Rantisi). The following summary was provided by the Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence of the US Treasury Department:
Interpal, headquartered in the UK, has been a principal charity utilized to hide the flow of money to HAMAS. Reporting indicates it is the conduit through which money flows to HAMAS from other charities, e.g., the Al Aqsa Foundation, and that it oversees the activities of other charities. For example, the Sanabil Association for Relief and Development represents Interpal in Lebanon. Reporting also indicates that Interpal is the fundraising coordinator of HAMAS, a coordination point for other HAMAS-affiliated charities. This role is of the type that includes supervising activities of charities, developing new charities in targeted areas, instructing how funds should be transferred from one charity to another, and even determining public relations policy.
The British authorities, conversely, have neither frozen the assets of Interpal and HAI, nor in any way impeded their fundraising activities. Instead they were invited to a seminar in March 2005 hosted by the Department for International Development (DFID) for Islamic charities, which, according to International Development Minister Gareth Thomas, served as “a constructive and valuable part in building on and improving our partnership with these organisations”. Meanwhile, the UK Charity Commission ceased its latest investigation of Interpal, citing a lack of evidence: "The American authorities were unable to provide evidence to support their allegations so the Commission has unfrozen the charity’s bank accounts and closed its inquiry." (Dominic Casciani, “Islamic charity cleared of Hamas link”, BBC News, September 24, 2005) In other cases, the Charity Commission has also failed to act, despite clear evidence of incitement and NGO violation of mission statements.
Interpal launched a lawsuit in March 2004 against the Board of Deputies of British Jews over a report, released following the US executive decree, which highlighted the organization’s involvement with terrorist groups. Bound by the findings of the Charity Commission, the Board of Deputies was forced to retract its statements.
These activities form a part of a wider pattern, and, as noted in documents on the NGO Monitor website, the Charity Commission has consistently failed to take action in the face of evidence that NGOs are violating their mandates by contributing to incitement and violence. As NGO Monitor noted in its submission to the European Commission’s committee considering guidelines for funding non-profits, “there is considerable evidence that ‘non-profit organisations have been exploited for the financing of terrorism and for other kind of criminal abuse’." This case provides additional evidence of the abuse of their humanitarian status.