Holland outlaws Muslim group after finding links to terrorism

AMSTERDAM — A Rotterdam-based Islamic charity has been outlawed and its moneys frozen after Dutch intelligence concluded its funds are used to finance Hamas terrorism.

Holland's foreign minister, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, outlawed the al-Aksa Foundation after the intelligence service published its 2002 annual report earlier this month. The report says that foundation money is transferred to Hamas to buy weapons and train suicide bombers.

Last winter, German intelligence concluded the same about a German foundation by the same name. An attorney for the Dutch group claimed it is not related to the German organization.

But as German investigators reached their conclusions, Dutch intelligence already strongly suspected that al-Aksa in Holland was not using its money for humanitarian goals. An elaborate investigation apparently confirmed the intelligence service's suspicion.

All al-Aksa funds have been frozen since de Hoop Scheffer's decree. The organization is protesting the decision, and has decided to take legal action against it.

A representative from the Center for Information and Documentation Israel, the Dutch equivalent of the Anti-Defamation League, said he is "relieved" by the government's decision to freeze al-Aksa's funds.

Al-Aksa officials met with government officials in mid-April, but were told the evidence against the group was classified, said Paul Lobato, an attorney for the foundation.

"Usually a suspect remains innocent unless proven guilty. We are guilty unless proven innocent," Lobato said.

If the government doesn't release al-Aksa's money, he said, "We will file a legal case against the minister for illegally freezing al-Aksa's funds, but also for slander."

The al-Aksa Foundation was established in Holland in 1993. It explicitly states it is a humanitarian organization, which collects money to support Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and in Lebanese refugee camps.

It collected some $680,000 last year, nearly half of it from mosques.

According to the organization, 41 percent of its funds are spent on food, 24 percent on healthcare and medicine, 20 percent on education, 9 percent on development and 8 percent on social and cultural needs.

Al-Aksa says it cooperates exclusively with humanitarian organizations.

"We told the Foreign Ministry that our actions are in fact closely watched, checked and permitted by the Israeli authorities. I have all the papers here," Lobato said.

Asked what kind of papers he was talking about, Lobato read aloud letters from the Palestinian Authority.

"The Palestinians are occupied by the Israelis, so if the P.A. confirms our actions are humanitarian, then in fact Israel has confirmed this," Lobato claimed.