As the world continues to learn the details surrounding the terrorist hostage crisis in Algeria, it is undeniably true that battling these militants will necessitate more than just military force.
According to Israeli intelligence, the standard profile of a terrorist is not someone who suffers from mental illness. Rather, it is someone who has gone through long conditioning, with funding playing a decisive role at every turn. By learning to hate through massively funded schools and media outlets, a person is raised with visions of martyrdom. The act of becoming a martyr, to both satisfy his ideology and provide a financial inheritance to his family, therefore becomes a natural step. Stopping terror must thus involve stopping its funding.
As with the diplomatic and military fronts, the financial war on terror is a never-ending effort. Beginning in the 1990s, Western countries, and especially the United States, passed laws making it possible for victims of terror to sue the regimes that sponsor terror, banks that transfer funds to terror groups, front organizations that pretend to serve charitable causes, and even the terrorists themselves. For the first time, terror victims and their families have a chance to fight back through the courts.
As an attorney, I have chosen to focus on cutting off the financial means available to terrorists
By establishing Shurat HaDin – Israel Law Center at the turn of the century, we have worked with Western intelligence agencies and volunteer lawyers around the world to file legal actions on behalf of victims of terror. We have continued to be inspired by the model pioneered by the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center, a non-profit legal group that for over four decades has successfully confronted and shut down racist groups across the United States.
The legal actions that have been taken continue to send a shock-wave throughout the international banking system, with many of the formerly reluctant financial institutions now fearful of massive civil liability. According to one high ranking Mossad official, Shurat HaDin’s legal activities have also reduced actual terror activity in the Hamas-ruled Gaza by as much as 60 percent. Terror money no longer freely flows throughout Western financial institutions and into the hands of terrorists. Our important efforts have put a massive roadblock in the path of terror funding.
Last December, for example, our Tel Aviv-based center won a $338 million judgment against Syria over the kidnapping of Americans who were leading an archeological excavation on the Turkish-Syrian border. The Washington, DC district court found the Syrian government responsible for terrorism perpetrated by the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), a militant group it sponsored and supplied. This DC district court ruling was groundbreaking because it once again pointed to an underlying fact: the free world must no longer stand aside while international crimes are committed by rogue regimes.
The fight against terrorism is not just a burden that falls mainly on the shoulders of governments and militaries. It is a fight that belongs to private citizens as well. Shurat HaDin has proven that it can target the terror money trail. It has won over $1 billion in judgments against terror groups and state sponsors, frozen over $600 million in terror assets, and has collected over $120 million, money that has gone directly to victims of terrorism. We are empowering the victims, and teaching them to fight back.
The challenge of the 21st century is to continue to confront terrorists, and their backers, in courts throughout the world. We must continue to use cutting-edge litigation to exhort reluctant governments into acting against groups such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah and outlaw regimes such as Iran, North Korea and Syria.
The task I have at hand is not simple, and it demands absolute totality. Nonetheless, the most rewarding aspect of this work is that we are able to give tools to victims of terrorism, and at the same time help prevent new victims of terrorism. We must continue to send a message to terrorists that we won’t remain silent in the face of their crimes.
Nitsana Darshan-Leitner is an attorney and the director of Shurat HaDin – Israel Law Center, which represents terror victims in lawsuits against terror groups, their leaders and state backers. Since 1997, Nitsana has been leading the struggle to fight Palestinian and Islamic terrorist organizations in the courtroom. She currently represents hundreds of terror victims in lawsuits and legal actions against Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, the Palestinian Authority, the PLO, Hezbollah, Iran, Syria, Egypt, North Korea, UBS, The Arab Bank, Bank of China, and LCB.