Amin Abou Rashed, president of the European Palestinians Conference (EPC), was rubbing elbows with Swedish politicians at an EPC event in late May. A month later, Rashed and his daughter were reportedly behind bars in the Netherlands for funneling €5.5 million to Hamas. This is just the latest instance of Hamas and other terrorist groups operating under the guise of charities and non-governmental organizations.
According to Dutch law, the names of suspects are not released until after a conviction. But the ages of the suspects, Abou Rashed’s conspicuous social media absence, and the analysis of those familiar with the case strongly suggest that the fifty-five-year-old man and twenty-five-year-old woman Dutch police arrested are Abou Rashed and his daughter.
Israel is not alone in identifying NGO networks in Europe affiliated with Palestinian terrorist groups. Treasury began sanctioning European-based Hamas-backed entities in 2003, including the UK-based charity Interpal, which is also designated by Canada and Australia. Two individuals who have served on the PRC’s board were also a board member and an activist in Interpal, respectively.
Beyond Interpal, the United States got serious decades ago about tackling charities and NGOs operating as fronts for Hamas. The most public of these cases involved the Holy Land Foundation (HLF). The United States designated the Texas-based charity as a terrorist group in December 2001, months after the 9/11 attacks. Over the course of years of investigations, U.S. prosecutors unraveled HLF’s web of fundraising on behalf of Hamas, particularly to support martyrs and their families. The HLF case highlighted Hamas’ strategy of collecting money through front groups.
Given his extensive connections to Hamas, it appears Abou Rashed was running the same playbook out of Europe. Israel sanctioned Abou Rashed, as well as two other EPC board members, in 2013 as an operative of Hamas in Europe. Abou Rashed also heads the Israa Foundation and was a member of the Al Aqsa Foundation Netherlands. Both are part of the Union of Good, a coalition of organizations fundraising on behalf of Hamas in Europe. The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned the Union in 2008, but the European Union has yet to follow suit. Abou Rashed has been affiliated with other NGOs tied to Hamas as well.
Swedish officials have yet to be deterred by Abou Rashed’s close, if not overt, ties to Hamas. In early May, Abou Rashed boasted about his successful meeting with Swedish Left Party member Mats Bilberg. At the EPC gathering in late May, Abou Rashed embraced a Swedish legislator known for anti-Israel remarks, while another Swedish lawmaker was in attendance.
Abou Rashed is just one of several Hamas members operating out of Europe. There is also Majed Khalil Musa Al Zeir, a German resident and senior member of Hamas. Al Zeir has held positions in entities based in Europe designated by Israel as Hamas proxies.
Then there’s EPC board member Mohammad Hanoun, who heads an Italian charity. In 2013, Hanoun led a European-Arab convoy to Gaza, where he met with various members of Hamas, including Ismail Haniyeh and Ahmed Bahar. Hanoun is on Israel’s sanctions list for Hamas activity.
Millions of euros flow into Gaza annually from Hamas-affiliated NGOs in Europe. But Hamas has also succeeded in attracting aid from non-Hamas European charities. In 2018, Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA), a Norwegian government-funded NGO, was involved in a civil fraud complaint from USAID in which NPA was required to pay over $2 million to the United States for admitting to providing material support to Iran, Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Beyond Hamas, Israel has identified an NGO network operating on behalf of the PFLP, which is likewise a U.S-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization. Following an investigation into a murder committed by Palestinians who were PFLP members and affiliated with NGOs, Israel designated six Palestinian non-profits, all of which have received European funding, as PFLP proxies.
Though some European countries have recently made strides in arresting suspected European Hamas affiliates or even outlawing the group as a whole, the lack of European sanctions on individual Hamas members and other covertly affiliated groups allows operatives to run freely on European soil. By allowing terrorists to incite and operate on the continent, Europe becomes increasingly vulnerable to domestic extremism, endangering Europeans.
Burying their heads in the sand is not an option for Europeans. British cleric Anjem Choudary leads the al-Muhajiroun network, which preaches an extreme interpretation of Islam similar to that of Hamas. Usman Khan, inspired by Choudary’s radical message, murdered two people on the London Bridge in 2019. Michael Adebolajo, one of the two men who murdered British soldier Lee Rigby on a London street in 2013, also drew inspiration from Choudary. Adebolajo had attended Choudary protests and claimed he carried out his attack to “take revenge for the killing of Muslims by British soldiers.” Just this Monday, a London court charged Choudary with terrorism offenses.
Europeans might be inclined to think that Hamas’ brand of terrorism is separate from that of other jihadist movements. But they would be wrong. Abou Rashed was a regular feature at anti-Israel protests in the Netherlands, where he spewed his hatred of the Jewish state. This type of hatred inspired Shehzad Tanweer to carry out the July 7, 2005, London transit bombings that killed 52. Tanweer explained his motivations in a video released shortly before the attack, saying, “You have offered financial and military support to the U.S. and Israel, in the massacre of our children in Palestine.”
Both the Abou Rashed and Anjem Choudary cases further prove how terrorist groups use NGOs as fronts for illicit activity. It should serve as a wake-up call to Europe. From Amsterdam to London and beyond, allowing Islamist terrorist groups to operate on European soil puts European lives in danger.
Melissa Sacks is a senior research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where David May (@DavidSamuelMay) is a research manager and senior research analyst. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD. FDD is a Washington, DC-based nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.