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CNN Live Event/Special

White House Has Begun to Tighten Net on Groups Deemed to Have Links with Hamas

Aired December 04, 2001 - 10:58   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We want to take you now to the White House, where President Bush is about to make his statement.


Today, we take another important step in the financial fight against terror. From the beginning of this fight I have said our enemies are terrorist networks of global reach, and all who harbor them and support them are enemies as well. We began with Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

We identified some of Al Qaeda's financial backers, and we moved against their accounts. In November, we advanced further and identified 22 more global terrorist organizations, and now we are moving against their financing as well.

At midnight yesterday, the Treasury Department froze the assets and accounts of the Holy Land Foundation in Richardson, Texas, whose money is used to support the Hamas terror organization. Earlier today, federal agents secured the offices and records of the Holy Land Foundation in Texas, California, New Jersey and Illinois as part of an ongoing investigation.

At the same time, we have blocked the accounts of an Hamas-linked bank, an Hamas-linked holding company based in the West Bank.

The message is this: Those who do business with terror will do no business with the United States or anywhere else the United States can reach.

Hamas is an extremist group that calls for the total destruction of the state of Israel. It is one of the deadliest terrorist organizations in the world today. Hamas openly claimed responsibility for this past weekend's suicide attacks in Israel that killed 25 innocent people, many of them teenagers, and wounded almost 200 other people. Hamas is guilty of hundreds of other deaths over the years, and just in the past 12 months, it killed two Americans, and today we act.

Hamas has obtained much of the money that it pays for murder abroad right here in the United States, money originally raised by the Holy Land Foundation. The Holy Land Foundation is registered with the IRS as a tax-exempt charity based in Richardson. It raised $13 million from people in America last year. The Holy Land Foundation claims that the money it solicits go to care for needy Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Money raised by the Holy Land Foundation is used by Hamas to support schools and indoctrinate children to grow up into suicide bombers. Money raised by the Holy Land Foundation is also used by Hamas to recruit suicide bombers and to support their families.

America has called on other nations to suppress the financing of terror. Today, we take further steps to suppress it inside our borders. I'm confident that most of the donors to the Holy Land Foundation and perhaps even some of the individuals who are associated with the foundation had no idea how its money was being used. They wanted to relieve suffering in a region of the world that has suffered too much. But if facts are clear, the terrorists benefit from the Holy Land Foundation, and we're not going to allow it.

Our action today is another step in the war on terrorism. It's not the final step. There are more terrorist networks of global reach, and more front groups who use, who seek to support them. The net is closing. Today, it just got tighter.

And now, it's my honor to welcome to the podium the Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill.


When the president declared war on terrorists financing in September, we made Al Qaeda our primary focus of attention and have since blocked $61 million worldwide in assets of the Taliban and of Al Qaeda.

In October, we broadened our pursuit of terrorist assets to include all foreign terrorist organizations, including Hamas. We stated very clearly our intent to pursue the bankers who financed these terrorists. Today, we're advancing on those financiers of terror.

The Hamas terrorist organization has taken the lives of scores of individuals, including American citizens. They have proudly claimed credit for their acts of evil, including the horrific attacks this past Sunday. They raise money in the United States and around the world. Clearly, Hamas is a terrorist organization of global reach.

Today, we're shutting down three Hamas-controlled organizations that finance terror. The Holy Land Foundation masquerades as a charity, while its primary purpose is to fund Hamas. This is not a case of one bad actor stealing from the petty cash drawer and giving that stolen money to terrorists. This organization exists to raise money in the United States to promote terror. Last year, Holy Land raised $13 million in the United States.

Government agents, today, shut down four offices of the Holy Land Foundation in the U.S. Innocent donors who thought they were helping someone in need deserve protection from these scam artists who prey on their benevolence. Similarly, the Al Aksa (ph) Bank and the Beit Alma (ph) Bank aren't just banks that unknowingly administer accounts for terrorists; they are direct arms of Hamas established and used to do Hamas business.

We will continue to name the financiers of terrorism to ensure that Hamas and other terrorist organizations have no ability to finance their acts of evil.

We will work with every civilized nation around the globe to ensure there is no safe haven for terrorists' money. Just as in the ground war, we will win by taking one hill at a time, advancing tirelessly every day until terrorists and their money have nowhere to hide.

Thank you.

JOHN ASHCROFT, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I thank the president of the United States and Secretary O'Neill for their outstanding work, and I'm honored to stand with them today in the fight against terrorism.

Today, we've launched another coordinated enforcement action against more organizations that finance terrorism around the world. With this action to go beyond the Al Qaeda network, to target groups, whose violent actions are designed to destroy the Middle East peace process with the suicide bombings in Israel over the weekend and previous attacks claimed by Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad over the last few years, leave no doubt about the urgency of stopping terrorism in all its forms, whether the terrorism emanates from Afghanistan or from the West Bank in Gaza.

By freezing the financial apparatus of Hamas, we signal that the United States of America will not be used as a staging ground for the financing of those groups that violently oppose peace as a solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. We won't tolerate it any more than we will tolerate the financing of groups that on September 11 attack our homeland.

Today's action is the result of the FBI's work with the Treasury Department on a continuing terrorist financing investigation coordinated by the Department of Justice's terrorist financial task force. This task force's sole mission is to dismantle U.S.-based organizations financing terrorist operations.

The task force was created in the aftermath of September 11 and is comprised of prosecutors from the criminal and tax divisions, U.S. attorney's offices, and FBI agents across the nation, in conjunction of course with the Treasury Department, those individuals who have expertise in investigating and prosecuting white- collar crime. Today's action targets a U.S.-based organization operated by individuals who have been the focus of joint law enforcement action prior to September 11.

The Holy Land Foundation For Relief And Development, based in Richardson, Texas, shares employees of an Internet company known as Infocom (ph). Infocom was raided by the FBI and had its assets frozen by the Treasury Department six days before the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks and the plane crash in Pennsylvania. Infocom, like the Holy Land Foundation, received much of its early money from Mousa Abu Marzuk, a top Hamas official who the U.S. courts have determined was directly involved in terrorism.

In addition to sharing Marzuk as an early sponsor, Infocom and the Holy Land Foundation were both established in California and moved to Texas in the same period of time. They are currently located in the same business park and appear to share office space and personnel.

I want to thank the Treasury Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the members of the Terrorism Task Force, working together constructively to investigate and dismantle these organizations which support terrorism.

In addition to developing this information, the FBI is accompanying Treasury personnel to various Holy Land Foundation sites around the country to conduct voluntary interviews with employees and to help secure the facilities pursuant to the Treasury Department's lawful actions.

I'm grateful for this opportunity. I thank the president and the secretary of the Treasury.

BUSH: Thank you all.

HARRIS: And you see the people over there now walking off, not answering any questions from the press there. We have gotten the word officially now. The White House has begun to tighten the net on other groups, not just groups that have been deemed to have links with Al Qaeda, but now they're going after groups that have links with the Hamas group, which we have talked about quite a bit as we have after covered events in the Middle East.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Leon, a very important point that you are mentioning, because up until now we've seen the United States law enforcement officials, other types of crackdown going after groups allegedly linked to Osama Bin Laden and his al Qaeda network. And then as you heard Treasury Secretary O'Neill say in the executive order in October, expanding the list of organizations allowing the Treasury Department to go after groups and individuals allegedly financing other terrorist groups including Hamas. Going after three groups one in the United States, believed to be funneling money to Hamas. We heard from the president and his top leaders there. Federal agents going after offices in Richardson, Texas. We also know raids under way in Patterson, New Jersey, in Bridgeview, Illinois and San Diego, California.

This charity, Muslim charity, US officials you heard secretary O'Neill say. Really is a masquerading, saying it's a charity but allegedly basically, it's only purpose getting money to the Hamas organization. What's also significant here, Leon, is the timing of this. Because US officials said that this was in the works. That the announcement was expected to come maybe 7-10 days from now. But the announcement moved up in the wake of this weekend's suicide bombing, obviously more than two dozens Israeli's killed in those bombings. Hamas claiming responsibility. So the administration very much wanting to move up this announcement, saying it's going after Hamas, going after any groups allegedly linked to the group. And the announcement again, timing accelerated in the wake of what's happening in the Middle East. Leon.

HARRIS: You know, Kelly something else that strikes me as interesting. Since September 11th I can't tell you how many times I've interviewed people who we have been talking about al Qaeda or any of the groups around the world that may be linked to them somehow, some way. And many, many times over, it has been alleged that there have been groups here in the US that have been posing as charities funneling money back to these organizations. This may be the first time I think we've ever seen one officially fingered for doing so.

WALLACE: Well, exactly. US officials have said that since September 11th they have been investigating some charitable organizations, whether they are actually fronts and posing as charities, but really funneling money to terrorist groups. Now we should definitely point out, Leon. The Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development is adamantly denying the charges. In fact it had a statement posted at it's Richardson, Texas location saying it is a humanitarian organization. That its money goes to Palestinian refugees around the world. And it says it is part of a quote-nationwide smear campaign targeting Muslims and those institutions that support them. So this group, though, adamantly denying the charges. Although US officials say they have evidence. We heard a little bit of the evidence too, Leon. the Attorney General, something we didn't know, talking about that web company; what did he call it Infocom.

HARRIS: Infocom, yes.

WALLACE: Yes, and he said that six days, I believe, before the September 11th attacks federal agents raided that group, seized its assets. That that group is believed to share employees with the Holy Land Foundation. That both of its offices started in California and moved to the same location in Texas. That Infocom's main source of money came from a top Hamas official. So there appears to be some of the evidence that the US is publicly putting, out linking the Holy Land Foundation to Hamas. Again, the group adamantly denying the charges. But US officials believe it is a leading fund-raiser for Hamas and they are obviously targeting its US assets and encouraging other countries to do the same.

HARRIS: Yes, interesting, one last note, Kelly. This is coming from the "New York Times". In regards to that denial you mentioned there by the Holy Land Foundation, saying that they do not necessarily, do not funnel money to folks who have conducted any terrorism anywhere else. They're saying, though, that their foundation helps people in need back home in the Middle East. We don't do test on whether families are in a criminal situation. So there's a denial there, but it seems to be a conditional one. So, I don't know, there may be more to talk about in the days to come on that one. We will see about that. Kelly Wallace at the White House. Thanks very much. Appreciate that. We'll talk with you later on. And we will have much more news coming for you just a moment after a break. Don't go away. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT