By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
The Bush administration moved yesterday against a key fundraising arm of Hezbollah, the militant Shiite Muslim movement that is part of Lebanon's government, ordering a freeze on its assets in the United States and making it illegal for Americans to contribute to the organization.
Hezbollah seized two Israeli solders last month, sparking a war between Israel and the organization that left large parts of southern Lebanon devastated. The United States regards Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, but the European Union has refused to join in that designation, in part because of the group's vast array of social services.
Yesterday's action against the Islamic Resistance Support Organization was intended in part to demonstrate the link between Hezbollah and terrorist activities. The Treasury Department released copies of a receipt issued by the group to a donor, which on the back listed projects such as "collection box project for the children and homes," "contribution to the cost of a rocket" and "contribution to the cost of bullets." The donor, whose name was redacted, used ink to signal his interest in helping fund a rocket.
During the conflict with Israel, Hezbollah launched about 4,000 rockets, killing more than three dozen civilians.
"Hezbollah projects an image as a humanitarian organization," said Stuart Levey, Treasury's undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence. "This puts the lie to that image. This shows there is no separation, and they raise money for social services and also raise money for terrorism."
The Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, an Israeli Web site that tracks militant groups, last week posted brochures from the group, also known as the Islamic Resistance Support Association. The materials were obtained during the conflict in Lebanon.
One brochure depicted coins going into a mosque, similar to the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, and emerging as rockets aimed at a battered Star of David. The Web site said that the group primarily raises money from Shiite communities in the Persian Gulf but has also raised money in the Detroit area. Congressional testimony last year cited an unclassified Israeli intelligence report that said the group raised funds in Detroit.
Levey said the group also solicits funds through Hezbollah's al-Manar television station.
Since the war in Lebanon began, U.S. officials have tried to fashion ways to cut off Hezbollah's financing, which is central to its ability to build up its stockpile of weapons. Under a U.N. Security Council resolution passed this month that called for a halt to the conflict, Hezbollah is required to give up its weapons.
But Levey acknowledged that a financial crackdown on Hezbollah is more difficult than the Treasury's successful efforts to thwart North Korean counterfeiting and preventing financial aid for the Hamas-led Palestinian government. In part, that is because Hezbollah is part of the Lebanese government, not the government itself. The European refusal to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization has also been a problem.
"We believe that Hezbollah meets the definition of a terrorism organization, and we have long advocated that to our colleagues in Europe," Levey said.
Iran -- which Levey called the "central banker of terrorism" -- is regarded as the biggest financial backer of Hezbollah, providing an estimated $100 million a year. The Treasury Department has been coordinating an effort to find ways to cut off Iran's support for a host of militant groups, including Hezbollah and the Islamic Resistance Movement, as Hamas is formally known.