Conference in Istanbul features Hamas, PIJ leaders, antisemitic authors

A conference titled “Freedom for Palestine” was hosted last month in Istanbul, hosted by the Al-Quds International Institute (QII), a designated organization fundraising for Hamas; the International Union of Muslim Scholars described as “the supreme authority of the Muslim Brotherhood,” and reportedly also the Doha International Center for Interfaith Dialogue.

This is in addition to other religious organizations and political parties, including the South African branch of QII. One of the conference’s stated goals was to work to raise again the incriminating accusation that Zionism is a racist ideology similar to the 1975 UN resolution 3379 rebuked in 1991.

Speakers at the event included Hamas leaders Ismail Haniyeh (through a video call), Mousa Abu Marzouk, and Basem Naim; Mohammad al-Hindi, No.2 at the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group; Mandla Mandela, grandson of Nelson Mandela; Sheikh Tareq Al-Suweidan, a notorious Kuwaiti cleric and author of a blatantly antisemitic book titled The Jews: The Illustrated Encyclopedia; Turkish and Brazilian parliament members; and others.

The conference also saw screenings of videos distributed by the Hamas militia, Izzadin al-Qassam Brigades, showing the targeting of Israeli soldiers in Gaza by gunmen, as well as interactive exhibitions supposedly depicting life in Gaza.

A key speaker at the event was Sheikh Hamid Al-Ahmar, an affluent Yemeni businessman who heads the organizing party, the Al-Quds International Institute, an organization sanctioned by the US Department of Treasury in 2012 for being founded by Hamas members as a proxy to raise funds for the terror group under a charity guise, and outlawed by Israel in 2009 for similar reasons.

A pro-Palestinian demonstrator holds a sign, as they take part in a protest against US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Turkey, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Istanbul, November 4, 2023. (credit: MURAD SEZER/REUTERS)

In his speech, Al-Ahmar praised the “Flood of al-Aqsa,” the name Hamas chose for the their October 7th massacre, called to “support the resistance in all forms,” and to reject any attempts to demonize it as terror. He also warned of the dangers posed by Israel on “the Arab and Islamic nations and all of the freemen of the world,” lauding South Africa for its role at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, and calling on the al-Sisi regime to open the border crossings with Gaza.

Who is Sheikh Hamid Al-Ahmar?

Aside from heading the aforementioned designated Al-Quds International Foundation, Al-Ahmar is also one of the wealthiest businessmen of Yemeni origin, though, since the Houthi occupation of Sana’a, he moved into exile and now resides in Turkey. His gargantuan conglomerate, the Al-Ahmar Group, holds a plethora of companies and marks in his homeland, with financial relations stretching far outside the Arabian Peninsula, including, according to a pamphlet distributed by the group around the mid-2000s, past collaborations with Motorola, Siemens, General Electric, Lufthansa, KLM, Philips, and more.

Al-Ahmar was also a member of parliament in Yemen, representing the Muslim Brotherhood’s al-Islah Party. His website mentions that he also served as owner of the Saba Islamic Bank and Yemeni telecommunications group Sabafon and that he is a member of the Oil and Development Committee at the Yemeni Parliament and even Finland’s Honorary Consul General in Yemen.

Sheikh Al-Ahmar also enjoys strong ties to the Hamas leadership: in 2013 Al-Ahmar hosted a delegation from Hamas led by a key actor in the Hamas politbureau Osama Hamdan, on the occasion of his children’s weddings. Additionally, In September 2021, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh delivered a eulogy for Al-Ahmar’s brother following his passing, and Haniyeh and Al-Ahmar can be seen in several joint pictures across the years.

In the same context, several Arabic-speaking outlets reported that lately, despite historical enmities, Al-Ahmar called on Houthis to assist Hamas in its war with Israel, and reportedly even met with leading figures in Hezbollah and the Houthi movement in Lebanon over a year ago.

Finally, Al-Ahmar heads the “League of Parliamentarians for Al-Quds,” a Turkish-based organization that brings together parliamentarians from roughly 15 Muslim countries in addition to Argentina and Italy, whose aim is to facilitate international collaboration at the parliamentary level and act against Israel.

However, despite playing key roles at QII for over a decade and enjoying close ties with Hamas leaders – successive US administrations did not see it fit to designate Al-Ahmar under the terror list – as opposed to their policy regarding QII.

A FORMER high-ranking Israeli security official referred to Al-Ahmar as “the man behind the war of awareness against Israel all around the world, and the coordinator of Hamas’s central Da’wah infrastructure, which is centered in Lebanon, and its affiliates are scattered around from South Africa through Malaysia to Turkey.”

The source added that Al-Ahmar enjoys “a worldwide business infrastructure owning banks, telecommunications companies, energy investments, and real estate, all of which aid Hamas’s companies in circumventing Western sanctions. Surprisingly, to this day it has not been dealt with by the Western intelligence and law enforcement systems.”

The source also mentioned that Al-Ahmar has a close partner with what they described as the “senior manager of the business line of Hamas,” Amer Al-Shawa. Al-Shawa was designated last October as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist by the US Treasury.

Al-Shawa is mentioned by the US State Department’s “Rewards for Justice” website, which also offers an incentive of up to $10 million for any information regarding his whereabouts, as forming part of the financial mechanisms of Hamas, adding that Al-Shawa has served as a board member on several Hamas investment portfolio companies and is the chief executive officer of the Turkey-based Trend GYO, a Hamas-linked real estate investment fund also sanctioned by the US.

The partnership between Al-Ahmar and Al-Shawa is multigenerational, as the source added that both figures’ sons are co-owners of a London-based Fintech firm.

“Al-Ahmar does business alongside Hamas members while managing a network of companies all located in the same building in Istanbul. He is also very close with Erdogan,” the source added. “It’s mind-boggling that companies, organizations, and even people around him all received proper designation from US authorities, yet he seems to find a way to circumvent US law time and time again,” the source concluded. 

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