Spotlight: terror finance in the NetherlandsFebruary 24, 2014
A reader recently asked Money Jihad for information on terrorist financing based in the Netherlands. An examination of Dutch charities, the banking sector, and crime rings is necessary to begin understanding how terrorists have used the Netherlands to fund their activities.
The majority of terrorist financing problems in the Netherlands over the past decade have originated from the Islamic charitable sector, particularly from Dutch Muslim groups purporting to provide “relief” in the Palestinian territories.
In 2003, the Dutch blocked Al-Aqsa Foundation assets in the Netherlands after discovering that Al-Aqsa funded terrorism in the Middle East. A previous manager of Al-Aqsa in the Netherlands, Amin Abu Rashed, was recently described by a financial crimes expert as, “the principal representative of Hamas in Holland.” Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, the Saudi-based terror front charity, was once active in the Netherlands as well.
Palestinian terror funding probably shifted after the Al-Aqsa closure to Internationale Steun Rechtstreeks Aan Armen (ISRAA). ISRAA remains active in the Palestinian territories and Syria, and maintains tax-exempt status in the Netherlands.
Islamic Relief Nederland, a chapter of Islamic Relief Worldwide, is involved at least indirectly in the financing of terrorism through its parent organization. IRW has previously funded Hamas and Al Qaeda operatives. Like ISRAA, IR Nederland is currently active in Syria.
Groups linked with the Muslim Brotherhood in the Netherlands have used domestic and foreign funds to finance their projects. Dutch intelligence revealed in 2010 that Salafi networks exploit generous Dutch public benefit programs to fund their own activities. Europe Trust Netherlands (ETN), a leading Dutch-Muslim group, has worked with Muslim Brotherhood leaders last year to arrange Gulf-based financing for the controversial Blue Mosque project in Amsterdam.
Banking sector threats
The large Dutch banking sector, which includes internationally known firms such as ING (which settled with U.S. authorities in 2012 over Cuban and Iranian sanctions violations), has probably been a factor in drawing some terrorist financiers and interlocutors to have a presence in the Netherlands. After 9/11, it was reported that the Al Rajhi banking family, whose patriarch was named in the Golden Chain document for funding Osama Bin Laden, reportedly maintained “a large portion of their funding from the Netherlands. The family owns an investment company in Amsterdam, which has funded ‘islamic investments’ for well over a billion dollars.”
The Islamic finance sector in the Netherlands is also a source of concern. Islamic finance has been documented as a sector marred by a lack of transparency and an increased risk of diverting profits toward terrorism as a form of corporate zakat.
Financial crimes and smuggling
Illicit transfers for terrorism based in the Netherlands have also taken place among criminal rings of various sizes. Tamil Tiger terrorists have used the Netherlands as a funding base with front organizations operating there. The trade in khat, a stimulant that is legal to import in the Netherlands, has been known for several years to fund the al-Shabaab terrorist organization in Somalia. More recently, Sunni donors have transferred funds from the Netherlands for jihad in Yemen. Meanwhile, a Dutch fugitive from Panamanian justice, Okke Ornstein, is subject to an INTERPOL red notice and is probably involved with laundering money for Hamas.
Lastly, it should be noted that former Dutch dependencies which have relaxed regulatory climates may also be susceptible to abuse for financial crimes. Hezbollah allegedly maintains bank accounts in the Dutch Antilles. Khalid Bin Mahfouz (the Saudi billionaire who sued Rachel Ehrenfeld for reporting that he funded terrorism), once parked money in the Dutch Antilles in a company called Pathfinder Investments, according to the Wall Street Journal. Pathfinder funds were subsequently transferred to the Success Foundation, a Virginia-based front charity for the International Islamic Relief Organization, a Saudi-backed office which was closed after 9/11 for its role in financing Al Qaeda.