From The Australian, August 08, 2008 by Richard Kerbaj:
Donations given in good faith in Australia sometimes fall into the wrong hands.
CHILDREN with distended bellies, villages destroyed by earthquakes, a bandaged infant lying in a makeshift hospital bed recovering from bullet wounds. These are images used by some humanitarian organisations to promote their fundraising campaigns.
...funds raised for good causes sometimes have a way of taking other routes.
The most dangerous route delivers the money to the hands of Islamic terrorists to bankroll their suicide bombings and other deadly campaigns. It's a route that continues to dog Western security agencies, which are attempting to significantly curb, if not stop, terror financing through charity organisations.
Two of Australia's most prominent Islamic charities -- Muslim Aid Australia and Human Appeal International -- are being investigated for their alleged links to Palestinian terrorist network Hamas.
MAA was raided by the Australian Federal Police last month following The Australian's revelations of the group's connection to humanitarian aid body Interpal, which is proscribed by Australia and the US for its alleged terror links.
While the MAA and HAI, both Sydney-based humanitarian organisations, have denied having any terrorism connections, they have brought into focus questions about whether charity groups have hidden agendas and the extent to which terrorist organisations go to exploit the finances of such bodies.
And for Australia, the second most generous nation among the 30 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development member countries, such questions are demanding an answer, especially to put at ease the minds of Australian donors, who in 2006-07 raised more than $750 million for overseas aid through local non-profit charity networks.
National security expert Carl Ungerer says it is difficult to determine whether money raised by charities for humanitarian aid in developing countries is being used for terrorist operations or for the manufacture of things such as rockets and suicide vests.
...He says it must also be remembered there are some Australian Muslims who do not believe that Hamas or Hezbollah -- organisations that do not separate the pool of money between their humanitarian and military wings -- are terrorist organisations. "Hezbollah and Hamas are not only considered resistance groups in the Middle East but ones (that) do charitable work that governments won't do," Ungerer says.
"The Lebanese Government in southern Lebanon is really nonexistent. It really is Hezbollah that is first on the ground after any sort of natural or political conflict." Ungerer's words are a sobering reminder of the declaration of support for terrorist groups by Australia's most senior Muslim spiritual leaders. At a 2006 rally during the Hezbollah-Israeli war, Australian Sunni Muslim spiritual leader Fehmi Naji El-Imam praised the militants as "freedom fighters".
In June last year, The Australian revealed that Shia Muslim spiritual leader Kamal Mousselmani openly declared his support for the Iranian-backed terrorist group. And former mufti Taj Din al-Hilali was investigated by the AFP last year following revelations that he gave $US10,000 ($10,986) of Australian-raised funds to an accused terrorism supporter in Lebanon in 2006. Hilali was cleared of any wrongdoing.
Hamas, which has claimed responsibility for numerous terrorist attacks and suicide bombings in Israel, was proscribed in Australia on November 9, 2003. Hezbollah was banned in Australia on June 5, 2003.
...Australian Council for International Development executive director Paul O'Callaghan says that in some situations there is nothing local charities can do to stop the flow of humanitarian aid funds being used by the wrong people. He says it is especially evident in some regions of developing nations that are being run by terrorist outfits. Hezbollah in southern Lebanon is one such example. ..."Where you have a whole part of a country which is run by a (banned) organisation ...."
US security expert Robert Looney defines Islamic charities under three categories: legitimate bodies promoting positive activities, those that have their funds unknowingly diverted and others that deliberately engage in supporting terrorist networks.
...Sydney Muslim charity Human Appeal International was among three of 12 HAI branches worldwide named and banned by Israel's Defence Ministry last month for allegedly raising "very large sums of money" for Hamas.
HAI's Sydney director Bashar Al-Jamal rejects the Israeli Government's accusations against his organisation but refuses to concede Hamas is a terrorist network.
HAI and MAA are under investigation by the NSW Government's Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing.
The MAA also is being investigated by the AFP and the Australian Council for International Development for its connection to Interpal... also known as the Palestinian Relief and Development Fund ...[which] failed three years ago to have its proscribed status removed from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's consolidated list, which names banned groups and people....