The following has been cleared for publication by the Israeli Security Agency:
Action taken by the Israeli Security Agency, with the assistance from Israel Police, has led to the February 2017 arrest and interrogation of Muhammad Murtaja, 40, a resident of Gaza, the coordinator of the Gaza branch of the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TİKA), a humanitarian assistance program run by the Government of Turkey. He was arrested on suspicion of working for the military wing of Hamas.
During its investigation, the ISA ascertained that Muhammad Murtaja was recruited by Hamas at the end of 2008. Beginning in 2009, Murtaja was active in the military wing of Hamas. His activities included military training and exercises, manufacturing weapons and explosive devices, and digging terror tunnels. Murtaja even stored weapons, such as hand grenades and guns, in his home.
During the investigation it became clear that Murtaja’s trip via Israel to receive training from TİKA, which led to his arrest for interrogation, was also intended to allow him to acquire information that would improve the accuracy of Hamas rockets being launched at Israel.
It was further discovered during the investigation that, beginning in 2012, Murtaja served as the Gaza Strip coordinator of TİKA. TİKA works on behalf of the Turkish government to advance humanitarian projects in the Gaza Strip. The investigation showed that Murtaja deceived TİKA by misusing the organization’s resources and funds, which were intended for substantial humanitarian projects in the Gaza Strip, by diverting them to Hamas’s military wing. This fraud was carried out in collusion with the senior ranks of Hamas in Gaza, headed by Ismail Haniyeh.
The investigation uncovered the various techniques Murtaja used. For example, he would give his superiors in TİKA a list of impoverished residents in the Gaza Strip who were candidates to receive financial aid. In fact, Hamas senior officials provided these lists to Murtaja, and most of the so-called “needy” people on them were actually terrorists in the Hamas military wing or their family members. In this manner, they received benefits and stipends.
Another scheme used by Muhammad Murtaja uncovered in the investigation enabled millions of shekels to be diverted to members of the Hamas military wing during and after Operation Protective Edge. For instance, food aid packages donated by TİKA for the destitute population in the Gaza Strip were given to members of the Hamas military wing. In addition, when Operation Protective Edge ended, the organization financed a public event, at which Hamas military members were awarded stipends and benefits.
It was further revealed that the Turkish İHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation helped to directly fund the activities of the Hamas military wing. İHH was designated in 2008 by Israel as a terrorist organization because of its support for Hamas. The investigation uncovered that Mehmet Kaya, the coordinator of IHH’s Gaza office, gave Hamas leaders Ismail Haniyeh and Raad Saad cash from Turkey that was earmarked for the Hamas military wing. The money transferred by the IHH to the Hamas military wing was used, inter alia, to build a facility to train Hamas marine forces, as well as to purchase equipment and weapons. For years IHH methodically transferred funds this way to the Hamas military wing to be used for its military buildup.
Murtaja provided a great deal of operative information during the investigation, including on tunnel routes, the methods used by Hamas in digging the tunnels, action plans for fighting, and weapons manufacturing.
Murtaja’s interrogation provides broad exposure to the methods used by Hamas in acquiring resources for its buildup and in the operative military sphere. This information, combined with a great deal of information obtained in the investigations of Hamas military members over the past year, show the considerable efforts invested by Hamas in preparing for a military confrontation with Israel, at the expense of the humanitarian situation in Gaza.
This investigation demonstrates the diverse fraudulent methods used by Hamas vis-à-vis the international community and humanitarian aid organizations. These acts of fraud, involving the highest levels of Hamas leadership, divert money and resources meant to rehabilitate the Gaza Strip and the destitute population therein. This fraud gives Hamas more room to use all its material and economic resources for acts of terror and military buildup.