- German authorities arrested four alleged Hamas operatives in Berlin and Rotterdam in December 2023 for allegedly plotting attacks on Jewish sites in Europe. Three additional suspects were arrested in Denmark and Netherlands.
- The German interior ministry considers Berlin-based Majed al-Zeer to be “[Hamas’s] secret representative in Germany,” and a key European conduit for Hamas fundraising in Europe. Government attempts at charging al-Zeer have not succeeded.
- Crackdowns on Hamas abroad risk further alienating the sizable Palestinian diaspora community in Europe, especially in Berlin. This could inspire more recruitment into Jihadist militant groups.
Europe’s ongoing probe into Hamas activities may reveal the scope of the group’s global operations. In response to a reported plot to attack European Jewish sites, this latest round of arrests and investigations in Europe is the culmination of more than a decade of efforts by German authorities to target suspected Hamas members and Hamas-affiliated charity organizations across the country. However, the extent of these efforts has been criticized by members of the German–Palestinian diaspora—the largest community of its kind in Europe. This could have lasting consequences for the militancy and radicalization of European pro-Palestinian activism moving forward.
The Sting on Suspected Hamas Operatives
The latest probe into Hamas in Europe began on November 2, when German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser announced a complete ban on the group’s activities in the country. This policy prohibits any and all internet presence or social media activity by Hamas, and permits authorities to confiscate Hamas assets upon investigation (DW, December 2, 2023). The ban also coincided with the banning of pro-Palestinian protests across much of Germany, with Berlin-area schools being given permission to ban the wearing of the traditional Palestinian scarf, or keffiyeh (Al Jazeera, November 2, 2023). Berlin has one of Europe’s largest Palestinian communities, with an estimated population of 30,000. Amid these moves, there has been growing complaints about the criminalization of Palestinian life in Germany (Al Jazeera, October 26, 2023).
On December 14, German public prosecutors announced the arrest of four reported Hamas operatives in Berlin and Rotterdam, who were detained on suspicion of plotting attacks on Jewish institutions in Europe. The suspects were also accused of attempting to store weapons caches in Berlin for that purpose (DW, December 14, 2023). That same day, two other Hamas members were arrested in Denmark, and a third individual was arrested in the Netherlands. These followed an investigation by Danish authorities that revealed “a network of people preparing a terrorist attack” (DW, December 14, 2023). Danish authorities also stated that four additional suspects were under investigation for having ties to Hamas across Europe. All of the suspects are scheduled to be arraigned in closed door sessions by January 2024 (Al Jazeera, December 15, 2023). A joint statement from Israel’s Mossad and Shin Bet (the country’s national intelligence and internal security services, respectively), released by the Office of Prime Minister Netanyahu, claimed that the “attack plot aimed to kill innocent civilians in Europe” (Times of Israel, December 14, 2023).
The suspects arrested in Berlin are reportedly Lebanese and Egyptian nationals, while the Rotterdam suspect is a Dutch national (BBC, December 15, 2023). The German Federal Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement that the three suspects detained in Berlin have close ties the Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s militant wing (Anadolu Ajansi, December 14, 2023). Danish authorities have yet to release the names or any other information about the suspects currently under arrest or investigation. Any connection between these suspects, as well as the exact nature of their involvement with Hamas, has not yet been publicly disclosed. German prosecutors say that a definitive link between the Berlin and Rotterdam suspects is not entirely clear. Senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri denies that any of the suspects currently being held in custody are members of his organization (Al Jazeera, December 15, 2023). It is likely that further details will be released to the public as the case unfolds.
International by Nature
The circumstances under which Hamas operates has made the organization international by nature, particularly with regard to finances and donations. The group’s exiled political wing effectively runs independently of Hamas’s military wing in Gaza. Additionally, with more Palestinian people living abroad than in Palestine itself, potential donors may be found in dozens of countries around the world.
Hamas is one of the world’s wealthiest terror groups, with an estimated annual turnover of $1 billion as far back as 2014. Although much of this is derived from taxes in Gaza and aid from foreign governments—especially Iran and Qatar—a substantial portion is also contributed by private donors internationally (DW, December 10, 2023). The opaque manner in which the group operates in a financial sense ensures that it is especially challenging for authorities to determine its funding sources (Reuters, October 16, 2023).
In Europe, the German Interior Ministry considers 61-year-old British citizen and Berlin resident Majed al-Zeer to be the “secret Hamas representative in Germany” with ties to supporters and donors across Europe (ynet News, December 17, 2023). Photos demonstrate that al-Zeer has been in contact with Hamas leader in exile Ismail Haniyeh, but prior to Hamas’s October 7 attacks on Israel, German authorities reportedly had little interest in al-Zeer (Spiegel, December 15, 2023). While there are allegations that police looked for evidence outside the door of al-Zeer’s Berlin home while other suspected Hamas members were being arrested on October 7, he was not taken into custody. The exact nature of al-Zeer’s relationship to terrorist activity remains unclear. For example, in January 2019, he was awarded $13,000 in damages (plus legal fees) by a London court, which found he had been wrongly included on an influential database used by financial institutions to assess the risk that individuals and organizations might be linked to terrorism (Al Jazeera, January 22, 2019).
The latest rounds of arrests across Europe highlight the potentially global reach of Hamas’s operations, both in terms of fundraising and coordinated attacks. An organization that has functioned practically under siege for most of its existence, Hamas’s vast financial network operates opaquely. As a result, proving the sources of its full network of funding is especially challenging for authorities around the world. Given the recent occurrence of these arrests in Europe and the sensitive nature of details that may be involved, it is likely that European authorities are withholding information from the public at this time. If the arrested individuals have definitive links to Hamas, both domestically and internationally, these arrests could precipitate a broader global crackdown on Hamas operations. These crackdowns could, however, come at the cost of alienating the sizable Palestinian community living abroad—potentially inspiring further recruitment into organizations such as Hamas.