'PA making bold bid to curb Hamas funds'

US Treasury official hails supervision of banking, charitable contributions.

April 9, 2010 05:57
4 minute read.
David Cohen

David Cohen311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

WASHINGTON – The Palestinian Authority has made significant moves to cut off the flow of funding to Hamas, according to a top US Treasury official.

David Cohen, assistant treasury secretary for terrorist financing, praised the PA for taking “important steps to limit Hamas’s influence” by supervising the Palestinian banking system and charitable contributions in the West Bank and Gaza.

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“The Palestinian Authority has been quite courageous in its efforts to regulate the financial system,” Cohen told the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on Wednesday afternoon.

He pointed specifically to the designation of the Islamic National Bank by the US Treasury, a measure he said had been made “with the full knowledge and support” of the PA.

“They are no more interested in having an unregulated financial institution operating in Gaza than we are,” he said, adding that while he couldn’t quantify precisely how much such actions had hurt Hamas, they had “made a difference in terms of restricting the flow of financial support to Hamas.”

He singled out Iran as a major backer of Hamas and even more so of Hizbullah, both of which also use expatriate sympathizers, NGOs in Europe and the Middle East and commercial ventures to help fund the group’s communications, weapons systems and terror operations. “Suffice it to say we are keenly focused on the threat that Hizbullah poses to destabilize the region,” Cohen said.

US efforts to cut off terrorist financing have had particular success in limiting al-Qaida’s funding, according to Cohen, who described the group as “in the worst financial shape it has been in for years.”

He noted that its top leaders had had to make fundraising appeals, that its affiliates had to search for their own sources of funds – increasingly turning to drug trafficking, kidnapping for ransom, and extortion – and disruption of their financial networks in making his assessment.

He contrasted that with the Taliban, which “is not experiencing much financial stress, and has sufficient resources to sustain its recruiting and training infrastructure, conduct devastating attacks on Afghan civilians and present substantial resistance to our troops.”

For al-Qaida’s part, the funding crunch “has limited their ability to plan, to communicate, to bring on board people, and it makes a difference,” according to Cohen.

But he warned that the terror outfit still had a “willing pool of donors,” and stressed, “Al-Qaida is not disabled, nor is it bankrupt, and our progress in degrading its financial strength will not be lasting without continued, vigorous [effort].”

Cohen named Saudi Arabia and the UAE as two important regional partners in disrupting the terrorist money flow.

“We made a lot of progress in the last several years working with the Saudis in a very collaborative fashion to go after the financiers and the donors in Saudi Arabia,” he said. “The Saudis recognize the threat that these groups pose to them.”

He faulted Kuwait and Qatar, however, for being “substantially less committed to disrupting the finances that occur in their jurisdictions.”

He also expressed frustration with the Europeans for objecting to a UN Security Council resolution targeting financiers of al-Qaida and other terror groups, as well as limits they had slapped on data sharing.

A recent decision by the EU parliament has halted information exchange through the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program, a system that Cohen calculated had helped thwart and track terror attacks in the US and Europe.

On Thursday, US Attorney-General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano traveled to Spain to try to broker a compromise that would alleviate European privacy concerns and allow the program to resume.

“I don’t know what else we can or, frankly, that we need to do to ensure the protection of personal financial data,” Cohen said Wednesday in response to a question on what more the US could offer to the Europeans.

And, he warned, “each day we go without it, we run the very real risk that information crucial to preventing an attack... is not available to US and EU authorities.”

But he said that another international terror fund-tracking mechanism, the Financial Action Task Force, had been successful in attracting near-universal support. He noted that countries including Russia and China had joined in when the task force censured Iran for its business dealings.

“The international community, and that includes Russia and China, has come to appreciate that Iran has chosen not to engage with the world, not to address the concerns that the international community has about its nuclear program” as well as money-laundering and terrorist financing, he said. These global actors “recognize that you have a choice, to either join with the international community in trying to bring pressure to bear on Iran or not.”

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