January 23, 2024 | Washington Examiner

Sanction the Hamas nongovernmental organization in Turkey

January 23, 2024 | Washington Examiner

Sanction the Hamas nongovernmental organization in Turkey

The United States government has intensified its efforts to counter Hamas worldwide. Recently, that has included sanctions on entities based in Turkey. The focus is warranted. The government in Ankara offers material support to Hamas in a variety of documented ways: office space, citizenship to its key leadership, and financial support. 

The government of Turkey has also enabled Hamas to establish nongovernmental organizations that help the Iran-backed terrorist group conduct outreach, public relations, and other activities. The Association of Jerusalem and Our History, or KUTAD, is one such high-profile Hamas front.

Jihad Yaghmour, a known Hamas operative based in Turkey, is the founder of KUTAD. The U.S. and British authorities sanctioned him in December for his continued role as a key official “who perpetuate[s] Hamas’s violent agenda by representing the group’s interests abroad and managing its finances.” A convicted terrorist who served jail time in Israel, Yaghmour is responsible for the murder of Nachson Waxman, an Israeli soldier from Jerusalem Hamas kidnapped and killed in 1994. In 2011, Yaghmour was released from prison and deported to Turkey as part of a prisoner exchange between Hamas and Israel that led to the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who had been held by Hamas in Gaza since 2006.

Yaghmour’s activities on behalf of Hamas are manifold. But his NGO features prominently among them. KUTAD maintains offices in Istanbul and Ankara. As president, Yaghmour has used the organization to host high-profile Hamas leaders to speak at public events in Turkey, including Saleh al Arouri (a top military and political figure recently killed by the Israel Defense Forces in Beirut) and Ismail Haniyeh (another top Hamas leader based in Qatar). In April 2023, KUTAD’s Ankara office hosted Nesim Yassin, the nephew of Sheikh Yassin, the founder of Hamas killed in an Israeli airstrike in 2004, to present a public talk on the “life and struggles” of his uncle.

While acting as KUTAD’s president, according to one Israeli think tank, Yaghmour has operated as a “liaison to the Turkish government and the Turkish Intelligence Service MIT.” What this means is not entirely clear. But the intelligence service first helped Hamas get established in Istanbul in 2011. It continues to play a role in facilitating the terrorist group’s activities out of Turkey.

Yaghmour runs KUTAD with Zaher Elbek, who leads the organization’s Ankara office. The two men have cultivated strong relationships with members of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s governing Justice and Development Party, or AKP. One AKP parliamentarian representing Istanbul, Hasan Turan, carries the title of “president of the Turkey-Palestine Inter-Parliamentary Friendship Group.” He routinely hosts high-level meetings with Hamas members in his government office. On Oct. 12, five days after the Oct. 7 attack, Turan hosted Basim Naim at the Turkish Parliament, along with members of KUTAD. Naim was the “health minister” for the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry that has since been exposed as having enabled Hamas to run military operations out of a network of hospitals across the Gaza Strip.

As the U.S. Treasury searches for new Hamas sanctions targets around the world, KUTAD is an obvious entity to consider. Entities owned or controlled by people already sanctioned by the Treasury, wielding the authorities of Executive Order 13224, are among the easier cases to make. Those working for or on behalf of KUTAD may also meet the criteria. That is for the Treasury to determine as the U.S. effort to target Hamas’s global enablers continues.

Sinan Ciddi is nonresident senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where Jonathan Schanzer is senior vice president for research. Follow them on X @SinanCiddi and @JSchanzer.


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