US freezes assets of Hamas 'supporters'

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The Independent US

The Bush administration today froze the assets of an American Islamic foundation and two overseas groups accused of financing the militant Palestinian organization Hamas.

Under an order that took effect shortly after midnight, the administration also shut four US offices of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, an organization based in Richardson, Texas, that raised $13 million last year.

The foundation, which calls itself the largest Muslim charity in the United States, denied that it was a front for Hamas.

Agents with the FBI and Treasury Department used the order by Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill to seize documents found at Holy Land offices in Texas, New Jersey, California, Illinois.

It is the third time since October that the administration has frozen assets of groups suspected of aiding terrorists.

The two financial groups targeted today, both based in Palestinian–controlled territory, are Al Aqsa International Bank and the Beit El–Mal Holdings Company, an investment group. It was unclear whether either group had assets in the United States, but the administration was urging allies to freeze the organizations' holdings.

The administration had planned the crackdown for later in the month, but moved up the action after the weekend suicide bombings in Israel that killed 26 people.

Hamas, already on the State Department terrorist list, has taken responsibility for the attacks in Israel.

The Holy Land Foundation issued a statement denying that it provides any financial support to terrorist groups or individuals and expressing confidence the organization will be cleared of the allegations.

"The decision by the U.S. government to seize the charitable donations of Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan is an affront to millions of Muslim Americans who entrust charities like ours to assist in fulfilling their religious obligations," the foundation said.

Al Aqsa International Bank was founded in 1997 with $20 million in capital, but did not begin operating until September 1999, according to administration officials. The bank is owned by the Jordanian Islamic Bank and by Beit El–Mal. Many of the same people who run Al Aqsa bank also control Beit El–Mal, officials said.

In Nablus, West Bank, Hamas spokesman Tasir Imran said: "Hamas doesn't take money from any institution in the world. Hamas is funded by the Palestinian people here, not by foundations based in America or anywhere else in the world.

Ranaan Gissin, an aide to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, praised the moves against the groups. "It's cutting off the umbilical cord of terrorist groups, it's going to reduce their ability to act, we welcome this kind of act," he said.