Archive for August, 2014

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Money Jihad blog benefits from celebrity tweets

August 16, 2014

We were quite surprised when comedian and actress Roseanne Barr recently tweeted out a link to a Money Jihad blog post from last year about Hamas’s involvement in organ trafficking to her quarter-million followers on Twitter:

Tweet by Roseanne Barr to Money Jihad post

But the 17 retweets and 10 favorites to Roseanne’s tweet didn’t drive quite as much traffic as the 55 retweets and 127 favorites for a droll tweet earlier this month by television actor David Boreanaz to his 600,000 Twitter fans:  “Number 4: https://moneyjihad.wordpress.com/2011/08/29/the-worlds-5-richest-terrorist-groups/,” corresponding to Hamas’s place among the world’s five richest terrorist groups as ranked by Money Jihad:

Angel from Buffy tweets link to Money Jihad post

But oftentimes the Hollywood tweeps can’t compete with subject matter experts with large followings on Twitter. Canadian commentator Tarek Fatah, author of The Jew is Not My Enemy and several other books, routinely attracts multiple retweets, as he did with this 2013 tweet about Money Jihad’s profile of one of Jamaat-e-Islami’s Saudi financiers:

One of Tarek Fatah's links to Money Jihad

That level of influence is tough to match on our own. But with over 4,500 followers on Twitter, @moneyjihad chirps out some popular tweets linking back to the blog, like this one in May about the Canadian Islamic charity IRFAN’s financing of Hamas:

Money Jihad Twitter referral

Twitter, in addition to being a very fun way of gathering news and engaging with people about terrorist financing, has been a very effective method of drawing attention to the blog.

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Muslim leaders decry bank account closures

August 15, 2014

Outraged by the decision of HSBC to close the accounts of clients who may be at risk of laundering money, evading sanctions, or financing terrorism, one of the trustees of the Ummah Welfare Trust (UWT) has called for a boycott by “Muslim brothers and sisters” and “their contacts” against the British bank.

The Federation of Student Islamic Societies also condemned the closure, saying it sets the precedent that such accounts can be “closed, without reason, at any time.” The Daily Mail notes that several Muslim Britons have taken to social media outlets to call HSBC’s decision “racist,” while the targets of the closures have blamed “Islamophobia.”

These knee-jerk and vitriolic responses are similar to the reaction of prominent individuals like Olympic medalist Mo Farah, who claimed that an attempt by Barclays to end a business relationship with one remittance company last year could mean “death to millions of Somalis,” and from U.S. Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN) who screamed, “It’s wrong to close off the lifeline!” during a protest against banks in Minnesota that ceased remittance services to Somalia in late 2011.

Can we not have a civil and intelligent conversation about why the accounts have been closed, and what regulatory pressures brought this to bear, without spoiling for a confrontation and casting HSBC’s leaders as a bunch of ignorant bigots?

The targets of the closures purport to be upset that they were not given an adequate explanation for the account closures. But that’s a catch-22. If HSBC had disclosed the reasons for its suspicions—if hypothetically it had said that UWT operates two programs in Gaza that are administered by Hamas operatives—then UWT would probably claim that the disclosure was baseless and defamatory, and that the matter should have been handled in private.

Or if HSBC had maintained the accounts, HSBC’s leadership would be hauled before Congress again and asked to explain why it still operated accounts on behalf of controversial entities like the Finsbury Park mosque and UWT.

This is a case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t, and damned for the manner in which you did or didn’t do it.

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Mexican extortion scheme spreads to Texas

August 14, 2014

“Virtual kidnapping” ransom schemes have migrated from Mexico to El Paso according to border city medical doctors. Criminal groups call the physicians and tell them a loved one has been kidnapped, and demand that a ransom payment be wired to Mexico.

This development is ominous because it indicates the spread of socially destabilizing extortion rackets from the Northern Triangle and Mexico into a U.S. border state. Whether drug cartels, human smugglers, cuota syndicates, street gangs, or garden variety con artists are behind the scheme isn’t really the point.

The thing to do is to educate the people who are at risk for being targeted, to persuade them to report such incidents to law enforcement, and to refuse payment. Otherwise, if the ball really gets rolling and Americans comply with ransom demands more often, then that will drive up the amounts demanded and the trend will become more difficult to stop.

Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, “doctors without borders”… From the El Paso Times (h/t @1389):

‘Virtual kidnapping’ scam targets El Paso doctors

Scam strikes area medical professionals, does not appear cartel-related

By Daniel Borunda / El Paso Times

Posted:   08/02/2014

A terrifying telephone scam known as a “virtual kidnapping” is targeting doctors in El Paso and other Texas border cities.

An El Paso Police Department spokesman on Friday confirmed that police are aware of the extortion scam and a warning that has been circulating among the local medical community about the threatening phone calls, which purportedly come from a drug cartel.

The scheme is a new version of similar telephone scams and “there is nothing to indicate” it is cartel related, police spokesman Officer Javier Sambrano said. The number of reported doctor scam cases was not available.

Virtual kidnappings sprung up in Mexico several years ago feeding off fears of drug violence and abductions. It is called a “virtual kidnapping” because the victim is made to believe a loved one has been abducted when no kidnapping has taken place.

In the latest version, a person calls a doctor’s office and asks for a doctor by name. The caller claims to be from a drug cartel and that the cartel has kidnapped the doctor’s son or daughter. There is sometimes a crying child on the phone. The caller barks instructions, demands a ransom amount and the victim is ordered to wire the money to Mexico.

The victim does not realize no one has been actually kidnapped until after sending the money.

“It is important to take a minute to step back, try to think and remain calm,” Sambrano said.

The scam has been reported in other parts of the Texas-Mexico border.

Last month in South Texas, KRGV reported that a doctor in McAllen received a call claiming that his daughter had been kidnapped by the Zetas cartel. The caller demanded $50,000 or they would deliver his daughter’s head in a bag. Then, a girl crying and begging for her life was put on the phone. The doctor said that the call seemed frighteningly real for about 30 seconds before he became suspicious.

No ransom was paid. The doctor’s daughter was safe and had never been kidnapped.

In April, the FBI website warned about virtual kidnappings targeting U.S. citizens staying in hotels in Mexico.

“Callers impersonate themselves as cartel members or corrupt police officers who claim they’ve kidnapped a loved one and demand a ransom,” according to an FBI podcast. The victim is told to follow instructions in a scam that can run for three days. The FBI said that scammers are suspected to be Mexican prisoners using smuggled phones.

The FBI said the calls have warning signs — the calls come from an outside area code, the ransom is only accepted by wire transfer and the calls never come from the victim’s phone.

Sambrano said the calls are a variation of the “emergency” or “relative in Mexico” telephone scams that have previously hit the El Paso region. In those scams, a caller tricks a victim into believing they are a relative in Mexico. They usually start a call saying “Guess who it is?” They then claim to be the person that the victim guessed. The caller usually says they are coming to visit but then call to say they have been in an accident or arrested in Mexico and ask for money to be wired to save them from their predicament…

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HSBC closes accounts: 2 Islamic nonprofits and 1 mosque

August 12, 2014

HSBC has closed the accounts of the Islamic charity Ummah Welfare Trust (UWT), the Finsbury Park Mosque in north London, and an Islamic advocacy group called the Cordoba Foundation. The closures are part of the British bank’s effort to improve compliance with U.S. and British regulations and after being heavily criticized and fined in 2012 for being too lax about the customers and correspondent banks it chose to do business with.

UWT’s accounts were closed by Barclays in 2009. A student group has reported that UWT has conducted projects together with the Al-Salah Islamic Association, a Hamas front. The Finsbury Park Mosque was formerly pastored by hate preacher and jihadist Abu Hamza. The Cordoba Foundation advocates for Palestinian causes, invited a guest to speak from the radical group Hizb-ut-Tahrir, and is run by a member of Britain’s Muslim Brotherhood.

Alex Brummer, city editor of the Daily Mail, offers this insightful analysis of HSBC’s move:

The notion that HSBC is closing down the bank accounts of Muslim groups and charities because of some kind of Islamophobia could not be more wide of the mark.

Britain’s biggest and most international bank is engaged in a determined effort to clean up its reputation and preserve its banking licenses in the United States after settling charges of money laundering and sanctions busting brought by the US Justice Department.

A coruscating 2012 report by the powerful Senate sub-Committee on Investigations found that HSBC had exposed the US ‘financial system to a wide array of money laundering, drug trafficking, and terrorist financing risks due to poor anti-laundering controls’.

The bank subsequently agreed to pay £1.12billion ($1.9billion) in fines to settle the claims and was given a five year probationary period to clean up its act.

Under the chairmanship of the redoubtable Scotsman Douglas Flint, who has been in charge of HSBC since 2010, it has rigorously sought to eliminate the risks of further money laundering charges that might put in danger its American banking licenses.

It has ruthlessly closed down branches, cancelled relationships with overseas banks and shut down the accounts of customers that might conceivably be regarded as risky because of links to money laundering, sanctions busting or potential terrorist activities.

In the troubled Middle East alone, it has doubled the number of compliance officers—internal enforcers—to 3,500 over the two years since it reached a settlement with the American authorities…

Improving the bank’s standards has been hugely expensive, with the global cost of the internal enforcement operation climbing to £296million ($500 million) a year…

Among the relationships that HSBC has severed, as it has gone about its task, is that with the Vatican Bank, recently renamed the Institute for the Works of Religion, because of its past association with money laundering. Such a move involving a prominent Roman Catholic institution strongly suggests Muslim causes and accounts have not been singled out as HSBC seeks to rebuild its reputation in Washington…

If HSBC could be accused of anything it is of being over-cautious in its dealings with the authorities and its elimination of potentially risky clients.

Thanks to Rushette for sending in the news.

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Money and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria

August 11, 2014

In 2007, the Islamic State of Iraq was seen as “the richest of the insurgency groups” in Iraq with $1 billion to 1.5 billion “collected in revenue by the group through foreign donations, enforced taxation and confiscation of the property and funds of Iraqis.” But the U.S. surge and ISI missteps significantly damaged the jihadist group’s ability to raise funds.

Seven years and three names later, ISIS amassed a $2 billion comeback and took control of large swathes of territory in northern Iraq including Mosul and 35 percent of Syria.

ISIS’s financial recovery has been marked by a slight shift away from reliance on local extortion networks (although those are still in effect), improved organizational and financial management by ISIS leader and self-proclaimed caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and the departure of U.S. troops in 2011.

The most important elements of ISIS’s funding are sadaqa (voluntary donations) from Arab donors in the Gulf; sales and tolls collected on sales of oil from fields under its control; and increasingly through money made by controlling key infrastructure.

Here’s a rundown of ISIS’s main funding channels:

Sadaqa from private donors

Fundraising is aided by contemporary marketing methods

Oil

  • ISIS controls 60 percent of Syrian oil including the lucrative Omar field
  • In Iraq, ISIS controls Butmah and Ain Zalah oil fields, the refinery in Baiji, and oil and gas resources in Ajeel in northern Iraq
  • ISIS sells or collects a portion on black market sales to Turkey, Iran, and in Syria itself
  • Revenue estimates for ISIS range from $1 million to $3 million daily

Dams

  • In addition to oil, control of key infrastructure such as the dams in Mosul, Fallujah, and Tabqa present increasingly significant revenue potential for ISIS.
  • Professor Ariel Ahram notes this is already occurring at Tabqa, where ISIS is involved in selling electricity.
  • New York Times reporter Tim Arango says that possession of the Mosul dam can enable ISIS to “use it as a method of finance” through extortion schemes to continue their operations.

Other sources

  • Isis has seized arms from Iraqi depots, including U.S. weapons given to Iraqi forces, plus weapons smuggled from Turkey and Croatia
  • The collection of ransom money has sustained ISIS throughout its existence
  • Antiquities smuggling

Incidently, little is being done by the Gulf states to curtail the flow of donations to ISIS because they either want an independent Sunni state carved out of Iraq or to replace Iraq’s Shia-led government with Sunnis. Washington should designate Saudi Arabia and Qatar as state sponsors of terrorism, but it won’t because of diplomatic considerations.

Without interdicting the donations and the contraband oil, U.S. airstrikes will have limited effect on ISIS’s coffers.

This piece is also published at Terror Finance Blog.

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Kosovo terrorists sold organs of 10 captives

August 10, 2014

Earlier allegations are true. An EU investigation has found that the Kosovo Liberation Army harvested organs for sale and carried out other atrocities, mostly against Serbs, during the late-1990s war in the Balkans. Evidence is still being gathered for organ trafficking charges, but indictments will be forthcoming for the other abuses.

Hamas and “Arab gangs” spanning from Sudan to the Sinai also make money from underground organ trafficking.  Generally the organ sales are arranged to make money to purchase weapons for further terrorism.

From the Associated Press (h/t Ultrascan HUMINT):

Handful of captives killed in Kosovo war so army could sell their organs on black market, EU probe suspects

Raf Casert, Associated Press | July 29, 2014

BRUSSELS, Belgium — A special European Union prosecutor said Tuesday he had “compelling indications” that up to ten captives were killed to have their organs harvested for illegal trafficking and black market sale during the 1998-99 Kosovo war.

The revelation was part of a presentation on a two-and-a-half-year investigation into atrocities that also largely confirmed human right reports that there was a campaign of persecution of Serb, Roma and other minorities by some people in the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army.

Clint Williamson, the chief prosecutor, said the Special Investigative Task Force would in future be “in a position to file an indictment against certain senior officials of the former Kosovo Liberation Army” for a series of crimes, including killings, disappearances, camp detentions and sexual violence.

The killing for organ harvesting has long been a key aspect of the probe. Williamson said that the level of evidence was not yet sufficient to prosecute the alleged crimes.

The EU probe followed a 2011 Council of Europe report alleging that the rebel KLA ran detention camps on Albania’s border during Kosovo’s war for independence from Serbia. It alleged that civilian captives were killed there and their organs sold as part of an illegal trade linked to senior KLA commanders.

Without naming any individuals, Williamson said that “there are compelling indications that this practice did occur.” He went to lengths to make clear the alleged harvesting was not a wholesale practice, rejecting claims of hundreds of victims. Some 400 people — mostly Kosovo Serbs — disappeared near the end of the war.

“Handful was meant literally — 10,” Williamson said, holding up two hands with outstretched fingers. “That is the approximate range of the number.”

“The fact that it occurred on a limited scale does not diminish the savagery of such a crime,” he said…

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How Hamas skirts sanctions to fund terror ops

August 8, 2014

Since Western banks won’t work with Hamas, the terrorist organization has developed several methods of accessing cash: trade-based money laundering by getting foreign suppliers to under-invoice them for imports, bulk cash smuggling from Jordan, taking advantage of diplomatic pouch immunity to launder money through consulates, manufacturing counterfeit medicine, and crooked real estate deals.

Excerpts from a recent Worldcrunch article follow:

Financing Hamas: How Cash Gets In The Wrong Hands In Gaza

Tomer Ganon (2014-07-28)

…Smuggling of money by traders is a relatively simple example for the tactics the Hamas leadership has developed to funnel money to the organization in Gaza, the West Bank and inside Israel, as Israeli banks have refused to allow money transactions to and from Gaza fearing it will be used for funding terrorism.

These tactics have become increasingly sophisticated since 2010, a recent report from the Israel Money Laundering and Terror Financing Prohibition Authority (IMPA) found…

Another method for financing terror that IMPA had identified in past years is international commerce. According to one of its studies, terrorist elements have been using various business owners and traders for illicit fund transfers to Gaza.

This tactic, uncovered in 2008, has led to the indictment of two Israeli firms that traded foodstuff and customs representation. This is how it worked: Hamas leadership buys different goods, mostly basic food items, abroad for very low prices or even for free. It then employs straw men to contract a private company to import the goods to Israeli ports and then transfer them to the Palestinian territories. A local distributor, who is in fact a Hamas operative, receives the shipment and later sells the goods. The high revenues, thanks to the large profit margins, then go to terrorists’ coffers.

An additional pattern the IMPA study discovered was the use of accounts owned by diplomatic missions. Financial statements of an unidentified embassy, received by the agency, revealed a large number of transfers from its account to various elements in the Palestinian Authority, including those in Gaza.

An analysis has shown that one beneficiary was an entity suspected in facilitating money transfers to Hamas. IMPA believes the embassy’s transactions were made innocently, in what looked to be legitimate payments, without it being aware it could be aiding terror.

These tactics were identified by IMPA in the course of a review of financial transactions reporting as required by standing regulations. However, authorities are also looking elsewhere, including an emerging source of funding for terrorism in criminal activity, such as drug trade and the manufacture of counterfeit pharmaceuticals — activities that obviously go unreported, and whose extent is unknown.

According to sources in the enforcement authorities, it’s a simple equation. Drugs and fake medicine sold in Israel are often distributed by elements related to terrorist organizations such as Hamas and the Islamic Jihad

The article doesn’t touch on state sponsorship and weapons supplied to Hamas by Iran and Qatar, which is of course the bigger factor behind Hamas’s operations.  But for spare change the above tactics work quite well for Gaza’s terrorists.

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Mad money news: recommended reading

August 7, 2014
  • Boko Haram schools are funded by Saudi charities… more>>
  • What could Hamas have bought and built for its own people for the same price as its smuggling tunnels?  Infographic>>
  • Fethullah Gulen and his Turkish operatives have quietly begun donating tens of thousands of dollars to elected officials in the U.S…. more>>
  • Terrorists are planning major cyber attacks according to the Department of Justice and the 9/11 Commission. Targets:  the economy and power grid… more>>
  • Companies should think twice before making a donation to a “charity” tied to a public official… more>>
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Ex-MI6 chief cites ISIS’s Saudi, Qatari donors

August 5, 2014

Iranian cartoon about Saudi funding of jihad

Richard Dearlove, the former head of the British spy agency MI6, made these comments last month about support for the Islamic State of Iraq by Saudi and Qatari donors:

They [Sunnis in the Middle East] are deeply attracted towards any militancy that can effectively challenge Shia-dom. How much Saudi and Qatari money – now I’m not suggesting direct government funding, but I am suggesting maybe a blind eye being turned – is being channeled towards ISIS, and reaching it? For ISIS to be able to surge into the Sunni areas of Iraq in the way that it’s done recently has to be the consequence of substantial and sustained funding. Such things simply do not happen spontaneously.

Indeed. As Money Jihad has previously observed, ISIS didn’t wake up one day and luck their way into seizing Mosul.  Video clips of Mr. Dearlove’s remarks are available on the Media Research Center’s website here.

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Somali in Holland funded al-Shabaab

August 4, 2014

Farhia Hassan, a Somali living in the Netherlands, has been arrested as part of a U.S. sting against an international cell of East African women who financed al-Shabaab. Additional arrests were made in Virginia and Washington state. The women sent the money back home to “brothers in the mountains,”—al Shabaab fighters in Somalia. The money was transferred in small increments probably to avoid scrutiny. Hassan is said to be pregnant, which her lawyers will probably use to argue against her extradition.

Thanks to Theo Prinse for sending over the story from Omroep Zeeland. An English account of the development comes from DutchNews:

Dutch Somali woman faces deportation to US over terrorist funding

A 30-year-old woman who lives in Terneuzen faces extradition to the US on charges of helping finance the al-Shabaab terror group.

The woman was arrested on Wednesday on the request of the US authorities, the public prosecution department said.

The woman, who was born in Somalia, has Dutch nationality. She will appear in court on Friday and the US has requested her extradition, the prosecution department said.

Brothers

The US department of justice said in a statement that two other women from Kenya and Somalia were also arrested in the US on Wednesday and two more remain ‘fugitives’.

Three defendants who were arrested face charges of providing material support to al-Shabaab, a designated foreign terrorist organisation that is conducting a violent insurgency campaign in Somalia’, the statement said.

The statement said the women referred to the money they sent overseas as ‘living expenses,’ and they repeatedly used code words such as ‘orphans’ and ‘brothers in the mountains’ to refer to al-Shabaab fighters, and ‘camels’ to refer to trucks needed by al-Shabaab.

The money transfers often were broken down into small amounts as low as $50 or $100, and the funds were intended for use by al-Shabaab insurgents operating in Somalia…

Prior Money Jihad coverage of terror financing based in the Netherlands is here. Posts about the financing of al-Shabaab are here. See this and these for the use of “orphans” as code for terrorist financing.  The AP and the Washington D.C. affiliate of ABC News have more information on the arrests here.

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U.S. Bank backs out of Dahabshiil deal

August 3, 2014

Minnesota banks stopped providing remittance services to Somalia in late 2011 over concerns about the risks of terror finance and money laundering. U.S. Bank, a subsidiary of U.S. Bancorp, considered a partnership with Dahabshiil to reinstate money transfer services to Somalia, but cancelled those plans earlier this year.

Minnesotans for a Fair Economy reported in April that:

U.S. Bank officials informed representatives of Minneapolis-based Dahabshiil, a Money Service Business (MSB) that serves the Somali community, that it would not conduct remittances to Somalia…

Community leaders have met with U.S. Bank officials many times since the last Minnesota bank ceased conducting the transactions. Such a meeting took place just two weeks ago.

“On behalf of our community, I am very disappointed by this decision to back out of our agreement,” said Mohamed Nor of Dahabshiil.

U.S. Bancorp explained its decision by saying, “”Unfortunately, because of some items identified in the independent review of Dahabshiil and the inherent risks of doing business in Somalia, we are not able to open an account as we had hoped.”

U.S. Bancorp should be applauded for its sensible decision. There are simply too many questions about the financial relationship between Dahabshiil and the terrorist group al-Shabaab to proceed with business partnerships between Dahabshiil and Western financial institutions.