West failing ‘disastrously’ to take out Hamas’s funding networks, says extremism expert

Jihadi groups operate largely unimpeded thanks to ‘useful idiot’ activists, says Muslim Brotherhood researcher


Jeremy Corbyn joins pro-Palestinian activists and supporters during a protest in central London calling for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas conflict, March 30, 2024 (Credit: BENJAMIN CREMEL/AFP via Getty Images)

Hamas and other anti-Israel jihadi terrorist groups operate in Europe largely unimpeded through “useful idiots” in the West who are ideologically sympathetic to Hamas’s agenda, a terrorism expert has warned.

Lorenzo Vidino, director of a programme on extremism at George Washington University, told the Times of Israel that Hamas “has been in Europe for about 30 years. It’s an open secret. But the investigations have been, for the most part, unsuccessful.”

Vidino, an expert on the European and North American networks of the Muslim Brotherhood, the umbrella Islamist movement from which Hamas was born, said Hamas follows the Brotherhood’s model of “outer” and “inner” circles.

He explained: “The outer circle is composed of a vast network of ‘fellow travellers’ who support the cause,” referring to people such as local activists, intellectuals and politicians who are ideologically sympathetic to Hamas’s agenda.

The inner circle meanwhile is “very secretive, tight and elitist, made up of just a couple of dozen Palestinians with long-standing family connections to Hamas. These are very charismatic individuals that have long operated in these countries, who are well set and most of the time obtain political asylum.”

The more visible and lawful side of Hamas’s presence is the regular public events and weekly street protests organised in cities throughout Europe, which have dramatically increased in frequency since October 7, Vidino said.

“But when you dig a bit, you find out who the people are behind these associations, and what their connections are back home [in the Palestinian territories]. It’s always the same cluster of 20-25 people. Their propaganda, their social media patterns, everything is Hamas. And it’s very public and visible,” he says.

“This,” he said, “is a typical Muslim Brotherhood tactic. They come up with a million different names for their organisation, for two reasons:

“Firstly, they want to give the impression that it’s a broad movement, so that when they organisation a public event, there will be 50 participating organisations, or if they publish a public letter, there will be 50 signatory groups. Secondly, if one of these groups is taken down by law enforcement, well, there’s all the other ones.”

These visible propaganda arms mobilise support through both the local Muslim communities in European countries but also to lobby European civil society and politicians, Vidino argued.

The main hubs of Hamas presence in Europe are located within prominent countries in the continent’s west, according to Vidino, like the United Kingdom.

He said that despite European countries being aware of who these core Hamas members are, the history of prosecuting these individuals has been “a complete disaster”, with European countries preferring to allocate their limited resources to more direct security threats.

He said: “We looked at investigations conducted against Hamas’s funding networks in the West over the last 25-30 years, and we found that it’s basically been a complete disaster. Investigations have been, for the most part, unsuccessful.

“Some of these key individuals have been investigated. At times, they get arrested, they get charged, but then it never sticks, with a few exceptions,” he said, citing the arrest of a Hamas member and his daughter last June for allegedly sending millions to Hamas.

In addition to believing that their limited resources would be better directed at more pressing security threats, European countries are additionally disincentivised to open legal proceedings against suspected Hamas leaders out of concern for unpleasant social ramifications.

Vidino said: “They will accuse you of Islamophobia and launch campaigns, and they have their political backers, their ‘fellow travellers’ and ‘useful idiots’,” citing as an example former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who notoriously referred to Hamas and Hezbollah as his “friends”.

“They have people they work with and with different degrees of intensity. They will work with other Islamists when necessary. But when they organise events – protests in the streets or even fundraising – they have no problem doing them with leftists because they obviously bring out big numbers.”

Hamas’s “visible” public diplomacy outreach and less visible illicit side, which fundraises for its terror organisations mostly under the cover of charitable organisations, is evidence of Hamas’s duplicity, Vidino said. He co-published a comprehensive report in December on the subject, titled “Tackling Hamas funding in the West.”

Danny Citrowicz, Research Fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies and non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council, has observed similar operations with regard to Hezbollah and warned against underestimating the expanding network of the Lebanese Shiite terror group on European soil.

He said: “In Europe, the main terror threats are considered to be Sunni groups such as al-Qaeda and Isis. You don’t really see them acting against Shiite radicalism. They think they have bigger fish to fry.”

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive