TORONTO - An Islamic organization accused of supporting the Middle Eastern terrorist group Hamas has been operating an Internet site out of the Toronto area, a U.S. counter-terrorism expert charged yesterday.
The Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP) denies links to terrorism, but has been accused in a lawsuit filed in the United States of being part of a network of U.S.-based organizations that finance Hamas.
Eighty U.S. counter-terrorism agents concluded a three-day search yesterday of Infocom Corp., the Texas company that hosts the IAP Web site. The search was part of an investigation into Hamas ties in the United States.
Although the IAP's Web site is hosted in Texas, it is registered in Mississauga. Rafeeq Jaber, the Islamic association president, said the Webmaster was in Canada. "The guy wrote the Web site from Canada, that's why," he said. "It's easier for him to do it."
The Canadian connection was discovered by Steven Emerson, a terrorism expert who runs the Investigative Project, a Washington, D.C. research centre specializing in global Islamic extremist networks.
The Web site -- iap.org -- is the latest in Canada facing allegations of ties to Islamic violence. Qudscall.com, which Mr. Emerson says was set up by the terrorist group Islamic Jihad, is registered to a Toronto address. It features statements from Palestinian terrorists taking credit for bombing attacks against Israeli civilians.
In addition, an "invitation to jihad" was posted on the bulletin board of islamway.com, which was registered in Montreal. The posting seeks recruits for terrorist training at camps run by mujahedeen fighters in Afghanistan. The Web site says it is not responsible for postings on its chat boards.
The RCMP launched investigations into both sites following complaints from the human rights group B'nai Brith Canada. Two days after the probes were announced, the latter site changed its registration papers to show a U.S. address.
As federal agents searched the Infocom offices, U.S.-based Islamic groups protested outside and denounced what they called an "anti-Islam witch hunt" they say was initiated by Israeli interests in the United States.
Mr. Jaber explained the investigation was the result of lobbying by pro-Israeli groups that want to close down "those organizations who try to bring the truth to the American public about the ugly face of Israel."
But Mr. Emerson said the IAP is the major U.S. political support group for Hamas, a Palestinian terrorist organization responsible for a wave of suicide attacks against Israel, including last month's bombing of a Jerusalem pizza restaurant that left 15 dead and 130 injured. The Illinois-based group has distributed Hamas communiqués and hosted conferences where violent anti-Jewish rhetoric was voiced, he said.
A lawsuit filed in Illinois by the parents of David Boim, a 17-year-old American, killed by Hamas gunmen in the West Bank in 1996, also alleged the IAP was a major fundraiser and financer for Hamas-fronted organizations.
Registration documents list the address for the IAP Web site as a postal box in Mississauga, Ont. The technical contact is listed as Bayan Elashi, owner of Infocom Corp. The Mississauga phone number listed on the registration records was not in service.
Lori Bailey, an FBI special agent, said the IAP and another Islamic group called the Holy Land Foundation had been subpoenaed for records related to Infocom. She denied the raid was motivated by politics or religion.
"This is a criminal investigation and there is no motivation based in religious preference or ethnicity or anything of the sort," she said.
The search was conducted by the North Texas Joint Terrorism Task Force, which includes the FBI, Secret Service, U.S. Customs Service and the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control, which has authority to seize the assets of organizations supporting designated terrorist groups such as Hamas.