Miami Herald

U.S. interviewi­ng Hamas hostage victims and families in terrorism probe

- BY AVA BENNY-MORRISON

The U.S. Justice Department is interviewi­ng survivors and families of victims of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack in Israel as it attempts to build a sweeping case against the militant group and its financial backers.

The individual­s, including former hostages and families of U.S. citizens killed abroad, have sat down with prosecutor­s and FBI agents in recent months, according to people familiar with the investigat­ion. Some have traveled from Israel and provided videos and text messages to help authoritie­s build a chronology of the attack and identify who carried out the kidnapping­s.

While part of the U.S. probe is looking at acts of terrorism, a broader focus is tackling the financial networks that have enabled Hamas. That includes examining any support from countries such as Iran and Qatar, and whether financing touched U.S. financial institutio­ns or assets, one of the people familiar with the inquiry said. The investigat­ion involves prosecutor­s from U.S. attorneys’ offices in New York, Washington, D.C., and the Justice Department’s Counterter­rorism Section.

A spokesman for the Justice Department declined to comment.

U.S. citizens were among the approximat­ely 1,200 people killed and 250 others taken hostage when Hamas operatives poured into Israel and stormed towns, army bases and a music festival. About 31 Americans were killed on Oct. 7 and as many as six remain in captivity, giving prosecutor­s a way to pursue the crimes, even though they were committed overseas. Hamas is designated a terrorist organizati­on by the U.S. and the European Union.

At the same time, U.S. support of Israel in the ensuing war has become a divisive issue for some voters ahead of the presidenti­al election in November.

Almost 38,000 Palestinia­ns have been killed in Gaza since the IsraelHama­s war erupted, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

The U.S. has put itself at the center of cease-fire negotiatio­ns in a bid to stop the conflict and prevent it from spreading across the Middle East.

Qatar, which previously provided funding to Gaza in coordinati­on, it says, with the Israeli government, and hosts Hamas’ political bureau, stepped up mediation when the war began. It has been a go-between for Israel and Hamas for more than a decade.

The Persian Gulf state helped broker the only truce in the war so far, a week-long pause in which more than 100 hostages were released. It ended at the start of December.

Iran has been targeted repeatedly by the U.S. over the years for supporting terrorist groups, and indictment­s were filed as recently as February against senior leaders of Iran’s Islamic Revolution­ary Guard Corps (IRGC). Iran, along with Syria, is also facing a new wave of lawsuits filed on behalf of hostage victims and their families for allegedly providing fire power and financial support to enable the Oct. 7 attack.

In cases where people facing criminal charges have been hard to detain, prosecutor­s have coupled indictment­s with civil forfeiture actions, allowing the government to seize assets. In terrorism cases, seized funds can be potentiall­y redirected into a reserve for U.S. victims of state-sponsored terrorism.

Federal prosecutor­s in Washington and New York seized more than 500,000 barrels of oil and $108 million when they charged leaders of the IRGC in February with terrorism and sanctions evasion. The U.S. alleged that funds from oil traffickin­g allowed Iran to support Hamas and Lebanon-based Hezbollah, which has also been designated a terrorist organizati­on by the U.S. Billions of dollars from the oil laundering network had passed through the U.S. financial system, the government said at the time.

 ?? JACK GUEZ AFP/Getty Images/TNS ?? Mothers and other relatives of Israelis held by Palestinia­n militants in Gaza since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack demonstrat­e in Tel Aviv on Friday, calling for efforts to save the hostages.
JACK GUEZ AFP/Getty Images/TNS Mothers and other relatives of Israelis held by Palestinia­n militants in Gaza since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack demonstrat­e in Tel Aviv on Friday, calling for efforts to save the hostages.

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