New U.S. sanctions target Turkey-based financiers of Islamist extremists

The U.S. Treasury on Tuesday designated 10 Turkey-linked firms and businessmen as affiliated with Islamist militant groups including Islamic State (ISIS) and Hamas, part of a broader announcement of 15 sanctioned entities.  

The Treasury’s press release designated companies and individuals in Istanbul, Izmir and Turkey’s southeast that sent tens of millions of dollars to ISIS, Hamas, and Hezbollah, including funds from Iran’s al-Quds Force, and included a gold-for-cash scheme.

“These new authorities will allow the U.S. government to starve terrorists of resources they need to attack the United States and our allies, and will hold foreign financial institutions who continue to do business with them accountable,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said. 

Among those designated was Istanbul-based Zaher Jabarin, who served as the head of financing for Hamas, which is labelled a terrorist group by the United States. According to the Treasury, he developed a financial network in Turkey that enabled the transfer of millions of dollars to Hamas via a financial firm called Redin Exchange. 

Redin, also designated on Tuesday, helped transfer tens of millions of dollars to Hamas and Hezbollah, with some of the funds coming from Iran’s al-Quds Force, the Treasury said. In southeast Turkey, the jewellery chain of Muhamad Ali al-Hebo was involved in a scheme to convert gold into cash to be sent to ISIS fighters in Syria, according to the press release.  

Tuesday’s sanctions mean that all U.S.-controlled property linked to those targeted must be blocked and reported to the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, and anyone engaging in business with the targeted entities could themselves face sanctions.  

The United States has appealed to Turkey to curb Hamas-related activity since at least 2015, while Ankara has been accused for years of turning a blind eye to ISIS supporters within its borders. 

The Treasury’s announcement came one day after Mnuchin reiterated that the United States was considering sanctions against Turkey for its purchase of a Russian missile defence system. In addition, the U.S. Treasury has yet to determine whether Turkey’s state-owned Halkbank will be punished for what a U.S. court said were violations of sanctions on Iran.

Here is the full list of Turkey-linked sanctioned entities:

  • Al-Khalidi Exchange, a hawala financial transfer service. Al-Khalidi’s offices in Istanbul, Izmir, Gaziantep and Şanlıurfa regularly transferred funds to Syria to support ISIS and the service was used by Fawaz al-Hawi, designated in 2016 as an ISIS financier, the Treasury said. 

  • Al-Hebo jewellery company and its owner Muhamad Ali al-Hebo. Al-Hebo’s shops in Gaziantep and Şanlıurfa were part of an ISIS scheme to convert gold into cash then send hawala funds, via Al-Khalidi, to ISIS in Syria. “As of early 2017, al-Hebo and al-Khalidi were both under the control and management of Muhamad,” said the Treasury.

  • Zaher Jabarin, head of finance for Hamas. The Istanbul-based Jabarin developed a financial network in Turkey to help Hamas raise, invest and launder money prior to transfer to Gaza and the West Bank. “Jabarin was involved in the transfer of millions of dollars to Hamas via Redin Exchange,” said the Treasury. 

  • Redin Exchange, financial transfer facilitator. Istanbul-based Redin has helped transfer “tens of millions of dollars” to Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran’s al-Quds Force within the Revolutionary Guard Corps, according to the Treasury. 

  • Marwan Mahdi Saleh Al-Rawi and Ismael Tash. Marwan al-Rawi is Redin’s CEO, while Tash is Redin’s deputy CEO and in charge of foreign relations. Tash played a key role in many transfers from Iran’s al-Quds to Hamas and has had contact with Muhammad Sarur, the Treasury said.

  • SMART import-export trading firm. Owned by Tash, SMART shares an Istanbul address with Redin Exchange and looks like a possible front company, said the Treasury. 

  • Saksouk Company, a money exchange and transfer service. ISIS’ financial facilitators, including Fawaz al-Rawi, listed Saksouk branches in Syria, Lebanon and Turkey as points of contact, and ISIS’ immigration committee attempted to transfer money via Saksouk, according to the Treasury. 

  • Al Haram Foreign Exchange service. In April, ISIS members in Syria were instructed to conduct all financial transactions via Al Haram, which has worked with Fawaz al-Rawi, who is known to make transfers within Turkey, the Treasury said.