JERUSALEM, Israel - Germany's Interior Ministry banned the International Humanitarian Relief Organization (IHH) on Wednesday for providing $8.3 million to organizations that either belong to or support Hamas.
Germany considers Hamas, the Palestinian faction ruling the Gaza Strip, a terror group. The country bans any organizations that support Hamas because its charter denies Israel's right to exist and calls for the destruction of the Jewish state.
In 2004, Germany's high court ruled against providing any funding to Hamas, stating that even money designated for humanitarian aid could be used for terror activities.
IHH, which was established in 1992 and formally registered in 1995 in Istanbul, has branches in several European countries, including Germany.
The group's German leader, Dr. Mustafa Yoldas, refuted the Interior Ministry's claim and said IHH is a humanitarian, not a political organization. Yoldas accused the government of bowing to Israeli pressure and said he will appeal the ban in court.
"I swear had they been suffering hunger, thirst or hardship, we would have also helped the Jews," Yoldas said. "Otherwise, you would have to let people starve or die to make sure not to support Hamas," he said.
Yoldas, 39, a resident of Hamburg, is also an active member of Milli Gorus, an Islamic group suspected of supporting fundamental Islamic activities. Several other IHH leaders are also actively involved with Milli Gorus.
Among its humanitarian aid projects, IHH supports orphanages, vocational education programs, hospitals and clinics, builds mosques and monitors human rights violations in Islamic areas.
Global Jihadist Networks
But in addition to its humanitarian aid work, IHH provides funding and logistical support to global jihadist terror networks, such as Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center describes IHH as a "radical Islamic organization."
IHH recruited and arranged passage for more than two dozen radical Islamic activists on the Mavi Mamara, the Turkish-owned flagship in the six-vessel flotilla that intended to break the Israeli naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.
These passengers were provided with a variety of paraphernalia, including chains, knives, stun grenades, and metal pipes, to use against the Israeli soldiers who boarded the ship.
U.S. State Department
Following the incident, the U.S. State Department confirmed that IHH has had close ties to Hamas.
"We know that IHH representatives have met with senior Hamas officials in Turkey, Syria and Gaza over the past three years. That is obviously of great concern to us," Assistant Secretary of State P.J. Crowley told reporters a few days after the confrontation aboard the Mavi Mamara in which nine activists were killed and 10 soldiers wounded.
French intelligence expert Jean Louis-Bruguiere agreed that "IHH had a role in the organization that led to the plot [aboard the ship]."
During a raid against IHH headquarters in Istanbul in 1998, Bruguiere said "it was clearly proven that some of the NGO's work was not charity. It was to provide a façade for moving funds, weapons and mujahedeen to and from Bosnia and Afghanistan."
"It seemed clear at the time that it was thanks to a measure of political backing within the Turkish government that it [IHH] could continue to operate," Bruguiere said.
That political backing has strengthened under Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan who told IHH leaders he would support their efforts "to break the oppressive siege on the Gaza Strip."
In a related matter, the U.S. State Department is considering adding IHH to its list of foreign terrorist groups, Fox News reported on Thursday.
"I believe we are looking at the IHH, but it's a long process to designate something a foreign terrorist organization," Fox News quoted State Department spokesman Mark Toner as having said.
U.S. Treasury Investigation
According to the report, the U.S. Treasury Department, which has expressed concerns about IHH in the past, is actively investigating the group despite some resistance within the Obama administration.
A group of 87 senators signed a letter to President Obama shortly after the confrontation aboard the Mavi Mamara.
"We are deeply concerned about the IHH's role in this incident and have additional questions about Turkey and any connections to Hamas," the letter stated.
"The IHH is a member of a group of Muslim charities, the Union of Good, which was designated by the U.S. Treasury Department as a terrorist organization. The Union of Good was created by, and strongly supports Hamas, which has been designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department," the letter read.
"We recommend that your administration consider whether the IHH should be put on the list of foreign terrorist organizations, after an examination by the intelligence community, the State Department and the Treasury Department," the letter to the president stated.
*Originally published on July 15, 2010.