WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration Tuesday froze the U.S. assets of a Texas-based Islamic
foundation that calls itself a charity, alleging that the organization acts as a front to finance the militant wing of the Palestinian group Hamas
The administration also targeted two banks based in the Middle East, accusing them of ties to Hamas.
The move marks the broadening of the U.S. financial war on terrorism in the wake of the September 11 attacks. It is the first time that the U.S. crackdown has included organizations believed to finance terrorist groups other than al Qaeda, the terrorist network headed by Osama bin Laden
believed responsible for the attacks on New York and Washington.
Hamas claimed responsibility for this weekend's suicide bombing
s that killed 25 Israelis, but Bush administration officials said they were working on Tuesday's action before those attacks.
At a White House announcement, President Bush said the Treasury Department acted at midnight Monday to freeze the assets and accounts of the Richardson, Texas-based Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development.
On Tuesday morning, federal agents from the FBI and the Treasury Department, along with local law enforcement, raided the foundation's headquarters in Texas, seizing assets and records and executing what an FBI agent described as a "blocking order." Agents also raided foundation offices in San Diego, California; Paterson, New Jersey; and Bridgeview, Illinois.
In a document posted on the front door of its Texas office, the Holy Land Foundation disputed the government's allegation linking it to terrorism.
The foundation's statement said it was a humanitarian organization that has worked to serve the needy since 1989.
In a mission statement posted on its Web site
, the foundation said it works to find "solutions for human suffering through humanitarian programs that impact the lives of the disadvantaged, disinherited and displaced peoples suffering from man-made and natural disasters." The statement said the foundation's area of focus is "Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine."
But administration officials said the foundation's purpose is to raise money for Hamas, soliciting funds from unsuspecting donors to finance its activities.
"This is not a case of one bad actor stealing from the petty cash drawer and giving those stolen monies to terrorists. This organization exists to raise money in the United States to promote terror," said Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, who attended the White House announcement, along with Attorney General John Ashcroft.
The two other targeted organizations, which are not believed to have any assets in the United States, are the Al Aqsa Bank in the West Bank and Beit El-Mal Holdings Co., based in the West Bank and Jordan. Administration officials said the United States was encouraging other nations to freeze whatever assets they might have for those two groups and said the two could not do business in the United States.
"They are direct arms of Hamas, established and used to do Hamas business," O'Neill said.
In addition, Ashcroft said the government previously had frozen
assets of an Internet company believed to share office space and employees with the Holy Land Foundation. That company, known as Infocom, had its assets seized and frozen six days before the September 11 terrorist attacks, Ashcroft said. Infocom also is based in Richardson.
Both groups, Ashcroft said, had an "early sponsor" in Mousa Abu Marzook, a top Hamas official deported by the United States in 1997.
Ashcroft said that Hamas is intent on destroying the Middle East peace process.
"By freezing the financial apparatus of Hamas, we signal that the United States of America will not be used as a staging ground for the financing of those groups that violently oppose peace as a solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict," Ashcroft said. "We won't tolerate it any more than we will tolerate the financing of groups that on September 11 attacked our homeland."
Assets of Hamas have been frozen in the United States since 1995, when the group was listed as a foreign terrorist organization
. But under a Bush executive order in October, the Treasury Department was given the authority to go after the financiers of terrorist groups beyond al Qaeda.
The last major announcement on this front came a month ago, when the administration added 62 organizations and individuals to the list and said most of them operated as part of two financial groups providing support to bin Laden and al Qaeda: the al Taqwa and al Barakaat networks. Officials allege those organizations and their affiliates gave financial as well as communications and other support to al Qaeda.