Revealed: How a bank in Turkey funded Hamas terror operations

Palestinian militants from the Ezzedine al-Qassam brigade, the armed wing of Hamas, carry mock rockets at a rally at the Nuseirat refugee camp in the Gaza Strip on December 12, 2014. (AFP File Photo)
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Updated 25 October 2020

Revealed: How a bank in Turkey funded Hamas terror operations

  • American court ruling shines new light on Erdogan’s support for violent extremists

JEDDAH: A US district court ruling that a foreign bank based in Istanbul helped finance the Hamas terror group has heaped further pressure on Turkey over its tacit support for terrorism funding.

Ankara has remained silent on the verdict, but the court’s findings are likely to isolate Turkey further on the international stage and damage its relations with Israel.

Three US law firms, including Stein Mitchell, last year launched legal action against the Kuveyt Turk bank over alleged terror financing.

The firms were acting on behalf of the estate of husband and wife Eitam and Na’ama Henkin, who were murdered in their car in a West Bank terror attack in 2015. The couple’s four children were also in the vehicle, but survived.

Eitam Henkin was a US national and his wife a foreign national.

The attack was praised by Hamas as an act of “brave resistance” and “heroic.”

In its ruling, the US eastern district court of New York said that the Kuveyt Turk “knowingly maintained several bank accounts for a Hamas operative who was the terrorist organization’s primary Turkish fundraising entity.”

According to the court, the bank “fully understood the operative’s role in supporting Hamas’ illicit and violent activities.”

“We all know about Iran’s longstanding support for Hamas. But less understood is the fact that Turkey, a NATO ally, provides significant support to the terrorist group,” Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, tweeted on Friday.

Plaintiffs in the case claimed that the bank aided and supported the murders by providing banking services to three customers, including a known Hamas operative, Jihad Yaghmour, and a Hamas-run institution, the Islamic University of Gaza.

However, the complaint also accused Turkey of acting as a “major political and financial supporter for Hamas,” with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan publicly meeting senior Hamas leaders.

Turkey’s acceptance of 11 Palestinian prisoners released under a prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas in 2011 was also included in the court ruling as a proof of close ties between Ankara and the terror organization.

The court also criticized Turkey for its failure to ban the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief, known as the IHH, a prominent fundraiser for Hamas in the country.

The foundation has been operating as part of the Union of Good, a global fundraising network for the terror organization, since October 2000. The network gathers over 50 separate Islamic organizations, several of which are designated as global terror groups by the US Treasury Department.

IHH made headlines after the Mavi Marmara raid when volunteers from the group on board a Turkish-owned vessel attempted to bypass the Gaza blockade in May 2010. Israeli forces stormed the ship and killed 10 activists on board, including Turkish nationals and an American of Turkish origin.

The US court harshly criticized the IHH for supporting the Islamic University of Gaza (IUG), which served since the 1990s as the principal recruitment source for Hamas ranks, especially Al-Qassam Brigades.

According to the court ruling, from 2012-2015, Kuveyt Bank conducted criminal activities by maintaining several bank accounts for Yaghmour, IHH and IUG. These included Euro-dollar accounts used to transfer funds though bank accounts in the US.

On Thursday, The Times newspaper in the UK claimed that Hamas had set up a secret headquarters in Istanbul to carry out cyber strikes and counter-intelligence against Saudi and UAE embassies in the Middle East and Europe.

Based on Western intelligence sources, the unit is allegedly run by Hamas’ military leadership in Gaza and directed by Samakh Saraj, a senior Hamas member.

In August, the US criticized Turkey over Erdogan’s hosting of two Hamas leaders in Istanbul, the second time this year, saying that the officials were “specially designated global terrorists.” Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh was a guest of honor at the meeting.

“President Erdogan’s continued outreach to this terrorist organization only serves to isolate Turkey from the international community, harms the interests of the Palestinian people, and undercuts global efforts to prevent terrorist attacks launched from Gaza,” the US State Department said.

However, Turkey continues to court Hamas despite US objections amid claims that Ankara has granted passports and citizenship to dozens of militants in the past two years, including senior members of a Hamas terror cell.


Turkish president denies country has a ‘Kurdish issue’

Updated 26 November 2020

Turkish president denies country has a ‘Kurdish issue’

  • Erdogan defended the removal of 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors from their posts
  • Erdogan's lack of sensitivity to the Kurdish issue could inflame tensions with Kurds in Syria and Iraq: analyst

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denied the country has a “Kurdish issue,” even as he doubled down on his anti-Kurdish stance and accused a politician of being a “terrorist who has blood on his hands.”

Erdogan was addressing members of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Nov. 25 when he made the remarks.

The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) launched an insurgency against the state in 1984, and is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and US. Erdogan accuses the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) of links to the PKK, which it denies.

Erdogan told AKP members that Selahattin Demirtas, the HDP’s former co-chair who challenged him in the 2015 presidential elections, was a “terrorist who has blood on his hands.”

Demirtas has been behind bars since Nov. 4, 2016, despite court orders calling for his release and faces hundreds of years in prison over charges related to the outlawed PKK.

The president defended the removal of 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors from their posts in the country's Kurdish-majority southeast region since local elections in March 2019.

He also said the AKP would design and implement democratization reforms with its nationalistic coalition partner, which is known for its anti-Kurdish credentials.  

His words are likely to disrupt the peace efforts that Turkey has been making with its Kurdish community for years, although they have been baby steps. They could also hint at a tougher policy shift against Kurds in Syria and Iraq.

According to Oxford University Middle East analyst Samuel Ramani, Erdogan’s comments should be read as a reaction to Tuesday’s resignation of top presidential aide Bulent Arinc, who urged for Demirtas to be released and insisted that the Kurds were repressed within Turkey.

“This gained widespread coverage in the Kurdish media, including in Iraqi Kurdistan's outlet Rudaw which has international viewership,” he told Arab News. “Erdogan wanted to stop speculation on this issue.”

Ramani said that Erdogan's lack of sensitivity to the Kurdish issue could inflame tensions with Kurds in Syria and Iraq.

“It is also an oblique warning to US President-elect Joe Biden not to try to interfere in Turkish politics by raising the treatment of Kurds within Turkey.”

But Erdogan’s comments would matter little in the long run, he added.

“Much more will depend on whether Turkey mounts another Operation Peace Spring-style offensive in northern Syria, which is a growing possibility. If that occurs during the Trump to Biden transition period, the incoming Biden administration could be more critical of Turkey and convert its rhetoric on solidarity with the Kurds into action.”

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have been a key partner for the US in its fight against Daesh. During a campaign speech in Oct. 2019, Biden criticized the US decision to withdraw from Syria as a “complete failure” that would leave Syrian Kurds open to aggression from Turkey.

“It’s more insidious than the betrayal of our brave Kurdish partners, it’s more dangerous than taking the boot off the neck of ISIS,” Biden said at the time.

UK-based analyst Bill Park said that Erdogan was increasingly influenced by his coalition partners, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

“He might also believe that both the PKK and the HDP have been so weakened that he doesn't have to take them into consideration,” he told Arab News. “The Western world will not respond dramatically to this announcement but they are tired of Erdogan. There is little hope that Turkey's relations with the US or the EU can be much improved. The Syrian Kurdish PYD militia are seeking an accommodation with Damascus, while the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the largest party in Iraqi Kurdistan, is indifferent to the fate of Turkey's Kurds and has problems of its own.”

The HDP, meanwhile, is skeptical about Erdogan’s reform pledges and sees them as “politicking.”

“This reform narrative is not sincere,” said HDP lawmaker Meral Danis Bestas, according to a Reuters news agency report. “This is a party which has been in power for 18 years and which has until now totally trampled on the law. It has one aim: To win back the support which has been lost.”

Turkey’s next election is scheduled for 2023, unless there is a snap election in a year.