US presses Gulf allies to help stem fresh fundraising for Hamas
Bloomberg News October 25, 2023
(Tribune News Service) — The U.S. has called on Gulf Arab states to help clamp down on a suspected increase in fundraising by the militant group Hamas following its deadly attack on Israel earlier this month.
A previously scheduled meeting of the Riyadh-based Terrorist Financing Targeting Center — a body formed in 2017 including the U.S., Saudi Arabia and five other Gulf Arabic states — was brought forward to Monday this week from next month, according to the U.S. Treasury.
At the meeting, U.S. Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson urged Gulf Cooperation Council member states to share intelligence that could be used to impose sanctions unilaterally or jointly against individuals and entities. He said the aim is to stop any attempt by Hamas to leverage its Oct. 7 incursion to amass donations and other funds.
“This moment should bring a profound sense of urgency, clarity and purpose to the work that we do,” Nelson said in his prepared remarks at the meeting. “The ability to act — to cut off the financial flows that feed terrorism — is a duty we all share.”
Nelson assured his counterparts that legitimate humanitarian aid to Gaza, like food, water and medicine, would not be impacted by any new sanctions.
After the meeting in Saudi Arabia, Nelson traveled to the Qatari capital of Doha, where many of Hamas’s political leaders are based. Since its inception, Hamas has received political and financial support from the gas-rich Gulf emirate, which is also a close U.S. ally that has been lauded by Washington for its role in mediating the release of Americans imprisoned in Iran and by Hamas in Gaza.
The Biden administration is asking its Gulf Arab allies to look as closely as possible at the operations of previously sanctioned Hamas-linked charities and entities in their jurisdictions as well as any suspicious activities by newly created ones, said a U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the delicate discussions underway.
Qatari officials declined to comment. Saudi officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“The UAE is committed to combating illegal financial activities such as money laundering and financing of terrorism,” a UAE official said.
The U.S. is particularly worried about Hamas’s ability to exploit connections to charities, shell companies and financial institutions in the region alongside its control of government bodies inside the Gaza Strip, according to Nelson. Washington has already imposed sanctions on 10 key Hamas members and associates based in Algeria, Gaza, Qatar, Sudan and Turkey.
Those targeted include three individuals managing assets for Hamas estimated by the Treasury last year to be worth about $500 million.
An individual described by the U.S. as “a longtime Hamas operative based in Qatar with close ties to Iranian elements” was sanctioned for his alleged involvement in “the transfer of tens of millions of dollars to Hamas,” including its military wing the Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades, which masterminded and executed the Oct. 7 attack.
Talks with Gulf countries have also touched on their own banking institutions, as they could be vulnerable to secondary sanctions if any Hamas money moves through them, according to the same U.S. official who declined to be identified.
Both the European Union and U.S. have designated Hamas as a terrorist organization.
It’s a delicate line to tread for many Arab states, which must contend with populations often supportive of the Palestinians and sometimes Hamas. In many instances, there is also sympathy for Hamas as a legitimate resistance movement against Israeli occupation.
At the Riyadh meeting on Monday, Under Secretary Nelson said many parties, including the U.S., are on the lookout to block Hamas’s efforts to drum up financial support and donations through cryptocurrency. One of the entities sanctioned on Oct. 18 was a Gaza-based provider of money transfer and virtual currency exchange services, including Bitcoin.
He said the U.S. and its allies had to “think systemically about how we can harden our financial system against those who are seeking to exploit new technologies.”
With assistance from Fiona MacDonald and Sylvia Westall.
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