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(photo credit: AP)
In what police are confident will deal a fatal blow to Hamas fundraising in the West Bank, the International Serious Crimes Unit (ISCU) announced on Sunday it had recently arrested the head of a Palestinian charity in Jenin suspected of distributing millions of dollars to Hamas terrorists and their families.
Ahmad Saltana, also known as Abu Asama, was arrested on September 25 during an IDF raid in Jenin. Saltana, 43, was the head of a Jenin-based charity that claimed to distribute funds collected by Muslim charities worldwide to local Palestinian humanitarian causes.
Police discovered however that the fund, which had an annual turnover of over $1 million, was earmarked not for humanitarian purposes as Saltana claimed but for families of suicide bombers, Palestinian prisoners, and Hamas activists to fund their anti-Israel activities.
Saltana, who was charged Sunday morning in the IDF military court in Salem, served a three-year prison term from 1993 to 1996 for his involvement in Hamas terror activity. He has worked for the past 16 years at the Charity Committee in Jenin and has served as its head for the past nine years.
Head of ISCU Lt.-Cmdr. Amichai Shai said he was confident Saltana's arrest and the cessation of funding to Shahid families would decrease the motivation of youth in Jenin - which police dubbed "the capital of suicide bombers" - to perpetrate terror attacks against Israel.
"The suspect's arrest deals a severe blow to the Hamas infrastructure in Jenin," Shai said. "This charity is an inseparable part of the Hamas organization and once the Palestinians know their families won't receive money they will think twice before perpetrating an attack."
Relatives of the Palestinian suicide bomber who blew up in the Sbarro restaurant in Jerusalem in 2001 killing 15 Israelis were among some of the people who Saltana supported. The organization also provided money to families of heads of the Hamas military arm who were killed in Operation Defensive Shield in 2002.
The Charity Committee in Jenin was outlawed in 2002 by the IDF commander in Judea and Samaria as part of a general IDF crackdown on terror funding. Despite the order, the charity never closed its doors and continued to serve as a conduit for the transfer of monies from overseas to Hamas.
The funds were collected through various non-profit charity funds in Europe, Arab countries and the United States. Police noted that the US foundations that transferred money to the Jenin-based organization continued to operate without disruption, despite a presidential order in 2003 that they cease funding terror-related activity.
The European funds named by police as transferring millions of euros to Saltana's organization were the Human Appeal International and Interpal based in the United Kingdom, Charitable Committee for Supporting Palestine (CBSP) in France, the Charitable Association for Supporting Palestinian People (ABSPP) in Italy, and the al-Aksa Establishment in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden and other countries.
Shai said that while individual donors may not have known where their money was going, "those who founded the charities knew exactly where the money would end up."
"The evidence that we have collected proves a clear link between the foundations overseas and terror activity in Israel," Shai said. "We will pass the information on to authorities in Europe and will tell them what is going on and advise them to shut down the foundations."
All of the funds, Shai said, operated under an umbrella organization called the Charity Coalition, which is responsible for financing Hamas terror activity. The heads of the organization are Khaled Muhammad Ahmad al-Shouli, who runs the French fund CBSP and Assam Yusuf Haber ben-Amni, head of Interpal. The founder of the coalition, police said, is the Qatari radical Muslim preacher Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qarzawi.