Middle East Charities Funding Terrorism


Jadejanandraja, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Within weeks of the Hamas attack on Israel, charities aligned with Hamas had already received $260 million in donations.

Over the years, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis, and other Islamic extremist groups have relied on Iran, known as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, for financial support. They employ various illicit means, including kidnapping for ransom, human trafficking, drug trafficking, and extortion, to generate funds. Additionally, Hamas benefits significantly from funding through charitable organizations, some of which are led by Hamas members or supporters. Moreover, they receive financial backing from development grants offered by Western NGOs and governments.

Since the 1980s, Islamic extremist groups have exploited the charitable sector for funding, with registered charities and nonprofit organizations in the US and UK channeling funds to extremism in various countries. The UK’s Commission for Countering Extremism found that Islamist groups took advantage of COVID-19 lockdowns and aid to expand their networks, while Western countries redirected resources from counterterrorism efforts to COVID relief.

Support is sometimes indirect, with Western-based charities serving as conduits, redirecting aid money to terrorists. Another avenue for funding is through educational, health, or other organizations under Hamas control. These sources pose challenges for authorities as they often dissolve, change names, reopen, and resume funneling money. Additionally, funds are frequently transmitted through registered banks in masked transactions or via unregistered banks or cash.

Some of the charities accused of funding terrorism include Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW), KinderUSA, and Human Appeal. IRW, which operates in 40 countries as a humanitarian organization, has been removed from the charities pages of numerous global media outlets, and banks like HSBC have closed its accounts. In 2020, the EU Parliament discovered links between IRW and Islamic terrorist organizations. Consequently, IRW has been banned in Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Russia, and Bangladesh. Senior members of IRW have posted antisemitic content on Facebook, as well as support for Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. Despite these allegations, the UN has continued to fund Islamic Relief.

Many charities currently supporting terrorists were originally established to fund the Mujahideen, who fought to expel the Soviets from Afghanistan. Following the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, Afghanistan plunged into civil war, marked by clashes between various Mujahideen factions and the collapse of central authority. Amid this instability, some Mujahideen factions transformed into or aligned with terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Notably, prominent Qataris have been identified by the US Treasury for aiding the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and the Muslim Brotherhood. Qatari charities have also raised tens of millions of dollars for Hamas over the past two decades.

Americans, whether knowingly or unknowingly, have also contributed funds to Al-Qaeda, with some of these transactions being processed through money service businesses (MSBs). Individuals in the United States have been arrested for providing financial support to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a terrorist group linked to Al-Qaeda, through charitable donations intended to aid widows and orphans. Additionally, Americans have faced indictments for transferring cryptocurrency to a terrorist group known as al-Nusra Front (ANF), which operated in Syria and Lebanon.

Terrorist financing has evolved from exploiting legitimate charities and establishing fraudulent ones to leveraging various online funding methods, including crowdfunding and online fundraisers. These groups also seek financial support from donors, whether knowingly or unknowingly, who contribute to their cause. Following a Hamas attack on Israel last October, supporters worldwide quickly established crowdfunding platforms to solicit charitable or humanitarian donations for Gaza. The US Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an independent inter-governmental body combating money laundering and terrorist financing, has found evidence of terrorist groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Al-Qaeda utilizing crowdfunding.

Terrorist organizations have increasingly turned to cryptocurrency and Virtual Asset Service Providers (VASPs) to transfer funds anonymously across international borders. The US Treasury Department has designated a Gaza-based VASP called Buy Cash Money and Money Transfer Company, which has been found to fund Hamas and other terrorist groups.

To counter terrorism funding, the Department of Justice and the FBI established the Financial Review Group (FRG), an inter-agency organization that includes the CIA, DEA, elements of the Treasury Department, and others. The FRG has frozen millions of dollars flowing to various terrorist-linked charities, including Al-Barakaat, the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, the Global Relief Foundation, and the Benevolence International Foundation. Additionally, numerous individuals associated with these organizations and their funding have been arrested.

In the United States, Canada, the UK, and the European Union, Hamas is designated as a terrorist organization, making funding Hamas a criminal offense. Authorities have the power to shut down organizations that raise money for Hamas and other designated terrorist groups. These regulations should apply to any organization supporting designated terrorist groups. By this reasoning, the UN could be implicated for its support of Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW). Similarly, one could argue that the Biden administration and other governments are also complicit for providing humanitarian aid to Gaza, which flows directly to Hamas.

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Dr. Antonio Graceffo, PhD, China MBA, is an economist and national security analyst with a focus on China and Russia. He is a graduate of American Military University.

You can email Antonio Graceffo here, and read more of Antonio Graceffo's articles here.


Thanks for sharing!