Counterterrorism efforts got a major boost last week when an American district court found three Muslim organizations and one individual, mostly based in the Chicago area, guilty of funding Hamas and fined them an astonishing US$156 million.
The four were found liable for their roles in the murder of an American teenager, David Boim, on May 13, 1996, when he was shot by Hamas operatives as he waited for a bus near Jerusalem. This case is important in itself, providing some measure of justice and relief for the Boim family. Beyond that, it helps fight terrorism in four ways.
First, it validates and operationalizes a 1992 U.S. law that prohibits sending any money to terrorist organizations, not just money specifically tied to violence. Even funds used for medical care or education, the logic correctly goes, ultimately forward violence.
Arlander Keys, the judge in this case, established that "the Boims need only show that the defendants were involved in an agreement to accomplish an unlawful act and that the attack that killed David Boim was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the conspiracy." This ruling places other civil cases, most notably the one linking Saudi royals to September 11, 2001, on much firmer legal ground.
Second, this marks the first decision by a jury penalizing Americans who support terrorism abroad and making them liable to pay civil damages.
Third, as the Boims' lawyer, Stephen J. Landes explains, it shows that "the American court system is prepared to bankrupt the Islamist terror network," just as it earlier destroyed the Ku Klux Klan and the Aryan Nations, two extremist and violent organizations, "by bringing unpayably large judgments against them."
Finally, the case confirms a pattern of culpability among even the most innocent-appearing of Islamic institutions. Two of the three liable groups have known ties to Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group; Holy Land Foundation serves as its fundraising arm, Islamic Association for Palestine as its political front. But the Quranic Literacy Institute appeared wholly unconnected to Hamas. It is a religious group based in a Chicago suburb that since 1991 has engaged in the pious work of translating Islamic sacred texts from Arabic, then publishing them in English.
But appearances can deceive. In June 1998, Federal authorities charged QLI with having for nine years supported "a conspiracy involving international terrorist activities and domestic recruitment and training in support of such activities" and seized $1 million of its cash and assets.
The FBI found that a Saudi-based financier linked to Osama bin Laden, Yassin Kadi, loaned $820,000 to the QLI in 1991, which the QLI then laundered through a series of real estate transactions. In what the Chicago Tribune calls "extraordinarily complex" deals, QLI cleared nearly $1.4 million and investigators suspect it planned to use this money in 1993 to fund the rebuilding of Hamas.
QLI's complicity in terrorism has great significance, for it is no rogue outfit but a stalwart of the Saudi-backed "Wahhabi lobby" in America. QLI's founding president, Ahmad Zaki Hammad, is a scholar of Islam boasting advanced degrees from Cairo's prestigious Al-Azhar University and the University of Chicago. He has served as president of the lobby's largest organization, the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), and sat on the board of the North American Islamic Trust, its mechanism for taking over mosques and other Islamic properties.
When the QLI's assets were impounded in 1998, leading organizations of the Wahhabi lobby – ISNA, the Islamic Circle of North America, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Muslim Students' Association – leapt to its defense, declaring themselves "shocked at this unprecedented action taken against members of the Muslim community." Nearly a thousand supporters rallied on QLI's behalf, chanting "Allahu Akbar."
And yet, we now know that this innocuous-appearing organization did have a key role funneling money to Hamas.
Muslim institutions too often are not what they seem to be. The "Progressive Muslim Union" is actually reactionary. Mosques harbor criminals. Honey companies and Islamic "charities" fund terrorism. A "mainstream" Muslim leader pleads guilty to an assassination scheme.
The lesson is clear: Wahhabi organizations like the QLI cannot be taken at face value but must be scrutinized for extremist, criminal, and terrorist connections. Extensive research, including undercover operations, is needed to find out the possibly sordid reality behind a seemingly benign exterior.
Dec. 14, 2004 update: This article builds on a prior column, "[The Boim Trial:] A New Way to Fight Terrorism," which explains how the case came to be and its significance. For further developments in the case, see "The Boim Case, a Key to Fighting Terrorism."