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How king of hawala funds Taliban’s terror

January 6, 2013

Haji Khairullah links heroin kingpins, jihadists, and hawala dealers in an “iron triangle” of terrorist financing according to U.S. and Afghan investigators quoted in a recent Reuters article.

Khairullah, who was blacklisted with sanctions from the U.S. Treasury Department last summer for his role in funding the Taliban, is the chief of a multi-million dollar hawala business spanning from Pakistan to Dubai.

Hawala is a traditional Muslim method of transferring cash that is difficult to detect or interdict, making it an ideal money service solution to Islamists.

The whole article is worth a read for the context it provides into the overlap between conventional business activities and terrorist financing in Afghanistan.  Here are just some of the most salient passages:

…The hunt for Khairullah’s presumed millions points to the sheer difficulty of choking Taliban funding channels.

Investigators who venture into the region’s forbidding ecosystem of illicit commerce find that lines between legitimate trade and criminality often blur, hand-written ledgers are barely decipherable, and deceptively nondescript offices move mountains of cash.

“Everything is done on a phone call and a handshake,” said one U.S. official. “The record system or the paper trail that allow you to connect the dots is not as clear as the Western system.”

In Kandahar’s seven-storey money market, where turbaned dealers haggle over bricks of well-worn notes, Khairullah’s colleagues leapt to the defense of a respected member of their age-old fraternity.

“When we went to his office, we only saw people changing money or drinking tea or eating sweets,” said Haji Qandi Agha, a regal-looking trader who is the market’s president. “There was no talk of the Taliban or heroin.”

Agha gestured to a man with a close-cropped beard and embroidered skull cap who had just approached his counter.

“For example, this man is sending money,” he said, after the customer produced a sheaf of grubby bills from his waistcoat. “What if the government or America captures him and says he’s Taliban? Is it my crime?”

The man, counting with deft thumbs, did not look up…

Current and former officials ascribe Khairullah’s wealth to… Afghanistan’s burgeoning heroin trade.

“He is one of the biggest fish in the region,” said General Khodaidad (who goes by one name), Afghanistan’s counter-narcotics minister from 2007 to 2010.

A source in Pakistan’s Anti-Narcotics Force also said Khairullah was suspected of involvement in trafficking. “He is rich and resourceful, therefore no one can touch him,” he said…

Investigators suspect Khairullah stands at the centre of an “iron triangle” locking hawala dealers, heroin kingpins and militants into an increasingly profitable symbiosis.

Taliban commanders would collect opium from poppy growers, then hand it over at his shops in farming communities in return for instant payments, a Western official said.

“He would take opium and give you cash,” he said.

Khairullah would then gather bulk quantities of opium in hidden storehouses to sell to traffickers for a lucrative margin, the official alleged.

U.S. officials say his hawala shops also served insurgents like a conventional bank, allowing Taliban leaders to make monthly payments to fighters, including their top commander in Helmand, a suspected major player in the heroin trade.

“As of 2010, Khairullah was a hawaladar, or hawala operator, for Taliban senior leadership and provided financial assistance to the Taliban,” the Treasury statement said…

…”A couple of months prior to the sanctions, [Khairullah] had stopped transferring money via these accounts,” said Mohammad Mustafa Massoudi, FinTRACA director-general. “He must have had some tip-off, some knowledge that it was coming”…

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