The Associated Press has published its account of an interview with France’s former top counterterrorism judge, Jean-Louis Bruguiere. In the late 1990s, Bruguiere investigated the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief. The group is better known by its Turkish acronym, the IHH. This is the group that organized the flotilla that was interdicted by Israeli forces earlier this week.
Bruguiere says the IHH has “clear, long-standing ties to terrorism and Jihad.” In particular, Bruguiere says he discovered that the IHH played a role in al Qaeda’s millennium plot against the LAX airport in California.
The AP writes (emphasis added):
Bruguiere, who led the French judiciary's counterterrorism unit for nearly two decades before retiring in 2007, didn't indicate whether IHH now has terror ties, but said it did when he investigated it in the late 1990s.
"They were basically helping al-Qaida when (Osama) bin Laden started to want to target U.S. soil," he said.
Some members of an international terrorism cell known as the Fateh Kamel network then worked at the IHH, he said. Kamel, an Algerian-Canadian dual national, had ties to the nascent al-Qaida, Bruguiere said.
Among Kamel's followers was Ahmed Ressam, an Algerian who was arrested in the U.S. state of Washington in December 1999 on his way to bomb Los Angeles International Airport as part of an al-Qaida plot.
"IHH had a role in the organization that led to the plot," Bruguiere said, reiterating sworn testimony he made in a U.S. Federal Court during Ressam's trial. Ressam is serving a 22-year prison sentence.
Bruguiere issued an international warrant for Kamel, Ressam's former mentor, who was extradited from Jordan to France in 1999 and sentenced to eight years in prison on terror-related charges. …
In addition to its role in assisting al Qaeda’s millennium plotter, Judge Bruguiere says that the IHH was responsible for moving “funds, weapons and mujahedeen to and from Bosnia and Afghanistan” – two jihadist hotspots. Bruguiere also told the AP that he was personally involved in a raid of IHH offices that turned up all sorts of incriminating material.
The IHH, of course, denies all of this. And the good judge says he does not know if the IHH has been involved in these same jihadist activities more recently -- but that makes sense, considering he has not investigated the group in recent years. In addition, the U.S. State Department, according to this same AP report, says it cannot “validate” the IHH’s ties to al Qaeda. (That last part is hard to believe because Judge Bruguiere references, in part, sworn testimony from a U.S. federal court. Presumably, that should be easy enough for the State Department to locate. Either the transcripts say what Bruguiere says they do, or they do not.)
Does this mean that “al Qaeda” was directly behind or involved in the flotilla operation? No, of course Bruguiere’s testimony does not mean that.
But Bruguiere’s analysis is one piece of additional evidence that firmly places the IHH within the broader Islamist and jihadist network. That is not surprising given the IHH’s extensive ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Brotherhood’s Palestinian branch, Hamas.
In other words, the IHH is not some benign humanitarian organization. And the flotilla was not some purely benign operation either.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.