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Spanish woman among suspects to be indicted, agency says

Shin Bet: Palestinian terror group stole millions from European aid donors

Security service says PFLP counterfeited documents, invented projects to pilfer funds for its military activities; Israel calls on countries to not donate to PFLP-linked groups

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Israeli security forces arrest suspected PFLP members as part of a broad crackdown on the terror group in the West Bank, in an undated photograph released on December 17, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)
Israeli security forces arrest suspected PFLP members as part of a broad crackdown on the terror group in the West Bank, in an undated photograph released on December 17, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Shin Bet security service on Thursday accused the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine of pilfering millions of euros from European aid organizations and governments to fund terrorist activities.

The Shin Bet in recent weeks arrested a number of those suspected of involvement and said that indictments against them would be filed shortly, including against a woman with Spanish citizenship, Juani Rishmawi.

In light of the investigation, the Foreign Ministry met with European diplomats in Israel and sent Israeli diplomats in Europe to meet with representatives of their host governments to ask them to refrain from donating to Palestinian non-governmental organizations linked to the PFLP.

“During these conversations, the representatives of the Israeli Foreign Ministry explained to the European diplomats the severity with which Israel sees these issues and presented them with the findings of the investigation, including proof that European government funds went to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which is recognized in Europe as a terrorist organization,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

According to the security service, the PFLP used its health organization, the Health Work Committee, to defraud various Europe organizations and countries of millions of euros over the course of several years.

“PFLP institutions deceived aid organizations in Europe through a number of methods – reporting on fictitious projects, transferring false documents, forging and inflating invoices, diverting tenders, forging documents and bank signatures, reporting inflated salaries, and more,” the Shin Bet said in a statement.

According to the security service, that money was used to pay the families of slain members of the terror group, to recruit new operatives, and to spread the group’s messaging throughout the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

According to the right-leaning Israeli group NGO Monitor, which tracks contributions to Palestinian organizations for possible terrorist connections, European governments and the European Union have donated upwards of 6.6 million euros ($8 million) to HWC from 2017 to 2020, with more than half — 3.6 million euros ($4.3 million) — coming from Sweden alone.

Photos released on May 6, 2021, showing, from left, Juani Rishmawi, Amro Hamouda, Said Abdat and Tayseer Abu Sharbak, who are suspected of stealing funds from European countries for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terror group. (Shin Bet)

The Shin Bet said the investigation was carried out in cooperation with the Israel Defense Forces and Israel Police.

The security service identified the four suspected leaders of the financial scheme as Tayseer Abu Sharbak, 47, who works as an accountant for the Health Work Committee; Said Abdat, 46, who previously worked as an accountant for the HWC; Amro Hamouda, 46, the former head of purchasing for the HWC; and Rishmawi, 63, who was responsible for fundraising for the organization in Europe.

The Shin Bet said the four suspects “gave up extensive material that educates as to the scope of the fraud that PFLP institutions carried out against European countries.”

Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya told reporters last week that the Spanish authorities were conducting “intensive dialogue” with Israel about the accusations against Rishmawi, who is also known as Juana Ruiz Sánchez.

Following a deadly attack by PFLP terrorists in 2019, which killed Israeli teenager Rina Shnerb and seriously injured her father and brother, the Shin Bet cracked down harshly on the group, arresting dozens of its members in December of that year.

Last year, the Dutch government halted funding of a Palestinian group, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, after it determined that some of the money was going to pay two PFLP members standing trial for their role in the attack that killed Shnerb.

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