Archive for the ‘Columns, essays, & pure opinion’ Category

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Kerry sides with Jordanian bank against terror victims

April 11, 2014

So committed is he to the illusory peace process between Israel and its neighbors that John Kerry’s State Department is siding with Jordan’s Arab Bank in pushing for legal relief from a terrorist financing lawsuit in New York.

At the heart of the case is Arab Bank’s refusal to turn over documents that would provide further detail about the transactions it helped facilitate for Hamas. Arab Bank has cited bank secrecy laws as the reason for its recalcitrance. Jordan has argued on behalf of the bank, making thinly veiled threats that it may not support the peace process with Israel if the U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t intervene to provide relief to Arab Bank from the rulings against it.

According to recent reporting by New York Times, “The State Department’s arguments appear to closely track those made by the government of Jordan.”

The intervention of the State Department represents a setback to progress that victims of Hamas terrorism appeared to be making last year in the case against Arab Bank.

Suing terrorist organizations and the banks that assist them has become an increasingly utilized tactic in the West to help gradually de-fund terror groups. Kerry doesn’t appear to be on board with that strategy.

Acknowledgment:  Thanks to Twitter user Mean Kitteh for notifying us of the NYT report.

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Five Democrats and their Middle East donors

April 8, 2014
Bill Clinton and Sheikh Mohammed Al-Amoudi

Bill Clinton and Sheikh Mohammed Al-Amoudi

Opponents of George W. Bush like pointing out his family’s links to Saudi Arabia. Fair enough, but let’s not lose sight of the high-profile Democrats who have benefited from multi-million dollar campaign contributions, sweetheart loans, and business deals from Wahhabi or Iranian patrons, or both:

Jimmy Carter—Carter accepted $1 million from the Bin Laden family for his Carter Center presidential library. Carter also received a multi-million dollar loan in the late 1970s to save his peanut business—a loan which was backstopped by BCCI, the Pakistani-operated, Persian Gulf-funded bank that became embroiled in international corruption scandals and was ultimately shut down. BCCI officials had relationships with Osama Bin Laden, gave nuclear secrets to Pakistan, and served as the depository for money made off the Arab oil embargo. Bert Lance, a Carter administration official and close personal friend of Carter’s, was forced to resign during Carter’s presidency for improper banking relationships with BCCI. More recently, Carter refused to give back a donation from the Zayed Foundation, an anti-Semitic, anti-Israeli, Saudi group, even after Harvard University had refused to accept a donation from the same foundation. Several observers have concluded that the funding has influenced Carter’s increasingly harsh views and references to apartheid when describing Israel.

(As a footnote, Jimmy Carter’s grandson, who is currently running for governor of Georgia, was accused of accepting too much foreign money when he first ran for office as a state senator in 2010, and Mohammad Bhuiyan, a university professor who is friend and ally of international micro-credit loan shark and alleged tax cheat Mohammad Yunus, has donated to Jason Carter’s political campaigns.)

Bill Clinton—The Clinton Foundation accepted a gift of at least $1 to $5 million if not $20 million from billionaire oilman Sheikh Mohammed H. Al-Amoudi. Saudi Arabia itself gave between $10 and $25 million shortly before his wife became secretary of state, with Kuwait, Qatar and Oman each giving between $1 to $5 million. These donations followed earlier millions that flowed from the Saudi royal family to the Clinton library in Arkansas. In her dealings with the Islamic world as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton neglected to pursue an agreement with Iraq to provide for its ongoing security needs after the withdrawal of American troops, and she pressed for negotiations with the Taliban in Afghanistan—two decisions which coincidentally aligned with the desires of Saudi Arabia.

Al Gore—Gore personally made about $100 million from his share of the sale of the Current TV network to the Qatari-controlled sensationalist and anti-Semitic network Al Jazeera. The $100 million windfall makes the Saudi gifts to Jimmy Carter look like, well, peanuts. The purchase gave Al Jazeera its long awaited entre to American audiences, along with some air of legitimacy by being praised by the former vice president after the sale. Qatar has been a primary bankroller of the radical fighters of the Arab Spring, and Al Jazeera has been its cheerleader. The Shiites, secularists, and Christians are suffering from Qatar’s activities, but Al Jazeera and Al Gore have made out like bandits from the transaction. Although Gore was highly outspoken against the war in Iraq, he has been fairly quiet about American involvement in Libya and Syria—involvement which is supported and encouraged by Qatar. A cynic may wonder whether Gore’s silence was purchased.

John Kerry—When Kerry ran for president in 2004, Iranian-American donor Hassan Nemazee gave him $100,000. Nemazee had served earlier on the board of the pro-Khomeini American Iranian Council. Kerry signaled during the campaign that he would pursue areas of mutual interest with Iran, and complained that George Bush didn’t give Iran “nuclear fuel” to see whether or not Iran would use it peacefully. As secretary of state, Kerry has pursued diplomatic negotiations with Iran in Geneva despite Iranian President Rouhani’s history of deceiving the West about Iran’s nuclear program. Eventually, Hassan Nemazee pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 12 years in prison for defrauding banks with phony collateral to borrow money to finance his Democrat fundraising activities. Nemazee also served as a fundraiser and adviser to Hillary Clinton before going to prison.

Barack Obama—Before he was elected, there were allegations that Barack Obama got help as a student from Saudi agent Khalid al-Mansour for law school expenses and as an adult from sweetheart deals by Syrian-American real estate developer Tony Rezko. Like Kerry and Hillary Clinton, Obama also received campaign donations from Hassan Nemazee. Donations totaling $30,000 were made to the 2008 Obama campaign from two brothers in Gaza in violation of campaign finance laws; the donations were said to be returned after the donations became public. California businessman Kareem Ahmed was a “million dollar donor” to the Obama campaign and Democratic causes in 2012, and his offices were raided by the local district attorney last year.

 

A lot of the donors here are anti-Semitic, and they are supporting these politicians because they believe they can help them undermine Israel’s security. Saudi Arabia in particular has a long history of trying to buy elections around the world, not only supporting Wahhabi causes and groups, but “secular” and mainstream entities such as universities and philanthropies in order to curry broad institutional favor from the West. These cases, even if the money had zero influence on the politicians in question, illustrate the great lengths to which wealthy Arab donors and sometimes pro-Iranian donors will go in an attempt to influence U.S. politics and foreign policy in their favor.

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Passport fraud poses terror finance threat

April 1, 2014

The presence of two Iranians with stolen passports on the ill-fated Malaysian Airlines flight 370 highlighted the ease with which foreign nationals from state sponsors of terrorism can fly with a false identity and gain entry to a NATO country.

Although the men may not have been responsible for the plane crash, the situation raises the question of how often passports are stolen or forged and what threats this presents to the criminals’ purported country of origin.

Interpol says that only three countries in the world screen air passengers against Interpol’s database of stolen passports.  Phony passports are a big problem too.  Earlier this month, customs officials in Dubai seized 52 fake passports on the way into the U.A.E.

In 2010, ABC News reported, “A decade after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks brought to light the dangers of fake IDs, federal undercover agents are still able to easily obtain genuine U.S. e-Passports using clearly fraudulent information that should have raised red flags at the State Department.”  The Government Accountability Office had confirmed previously that obtaining a real passport using fake identification could be done “easily.”  More recently, the Daily Mail reported that fake passports can be purchased through the online Silk Road black market.

Benefits of a fraudulent passport

Individuals can carry out many activities with a fraudulent passport other than boarding a plane.  They can set up bank accounts and apply for credit cards, like one eastern European mob boss did in Canterbury—accounts which he used “to rip off casinos, high street stores, petrol stations and banks.”  Hackers can also set up bank accounts in the U.S. from overseas using false passports, and use those accounts as repositories for money obtained as the result of malware attacks, as a case from a few years ago demonstrated.

Basically, obtaining a fraudulent passport allows malicious actors to “buy citizenship” in a target country.  The Telegraph reported this month that a Bulgarian passport can be purchased underground for £150,000, which enables the buyer to pose as a European Union citizen, even if he or she has a criminal record, and become eligible for government services and public benefits.

PBS’s Frontline has reported that Al Qaeda uses counterfeit passports and has conducted passport forgery workshops “to travel internationally in order to raise funds, recruit operatives, train the operatives in Afghanistan and send them out to plan and conduct terrorist attacks.”

False identities also complicate law enforcement’s efforts to investigate crime.  The CBC recently highlighted the threat of “synthetic ID fraud,” saying that “Fraudsters have been able to obtain driver’s licences, passports, phone numbers and credit cards, as well as open bank accounts, take out bank loans and create companies, all under fake names. By the time police move in, many of the fraudsters have vanished, leaving investigators trying to locate people who never existed.”

Diplomatic passports

Possession of diplomatic passports by ambassadors, consuls, and other diplomatic officials immunize travelers but from bag searches at airports.  This “diplomatic pouch” carve-out presents a significant smuggling risk.

Financial crimes analyst Kenneth Rijock revealed that Hezbollah agents based in South America were granted diplomatic passports by Venezuela, meaning:

Hezbollah agents could transport cocaine in international commerce, without fear of arrest. They also can carry bulk cash, or financial instruments into offshore financial centres, this moving Hezbollah drug profits along on their journey to controlled entities inside Lebanon.  One wonders whether how many Hezbollah agents are running around Europe with Lebanese diplomatic passports, moving cash or cashier’s cheques through EU banks, in support of the organisation’s terrorist goals…

The Venezuela connection was followed by an uproar in Canada over an Iranian national who entered the country with a diplomatic passport issued by St. Kitts & Nevis after the Iranian paid a $1 million bribe to Caribbean officials.

Author of the book Dirty Dealing Peter Lilley once observed that possession of a diplomatic passport from “an obscure country” could be red flag for money laundering.

What can be done

There can always be tighter controls and better physical standards for passports to prevent counterfeiting, the same way that officials do with currency.  More countries could use Interpol’s database of lost and stolen passports, although there are costs associated with that.  The Heritage Foundation has argued that the biographical questionnaire in the U.S. passport application should be modified.  Individuals should also take steps to safeguard their own passports from being stolen or copied.

Another measure to consider would be for some countries to increase the penalties for counterfeit passports.  Hollywood actor Wesley Snipes got off with simply being able to return to his country without even paying a fine after allegedly being caught abroad with a fake South African passport.

This piece has also been published at Terror Finance Blog.

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Sanctions needed against Pakistan’s spy agency

March 25, 2014

This piece is also published at Terror Finance Blog today:

When dealing with undesirable behavior by foreign governments, the U.S. has increasingly employed narrowly targeted sanctions against individual officials of those governments, from human rights abusers in Syria to Russian leaders responsible for the annexation of Crimea.

But the same logic has yet to be applied to the ISI, Pakistan’s terrorist-sponsoring intelligence agency, which, compared to Russia and Syria, has posed a more direct threat to U.S. forces and civilians through the ISI’s sponsorship of terrorism against our troops in Afghanistan and through the safe haven it provided to Osama Bin Laden.

New York Times reporter Carlotta Gall revealed last week that, “Soon after the Navy SEAL raid on Bin Laden’s house, a Pakistani official told me that the United States had direct evidence that the ISI chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, knew of Bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad,”  and that the ISI ran a special desk to “handle” Bin Laden.

The Bin Laden revelation is only the tip of the iceberg.  The Taliban itself was created by Pakistan, which allowed Al Qaeda to use Afghanistan as a base for hatching the 9/11 plot.  The perpetrators of the 26/11 terrorist attacks against Mumbai that left over 160 dead were also “clients and creations of the ISI.”

In an intercepted conversation, former ISI chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani was heard describing Jalaluddin Haqqani, leader of the terrorist Haqqani network, as a “strategic asset.”  That is the way that Pakistani intelligence has looked at jihadists for decades—that holy warriors provide strategic depth and variety to the conventional armed forces along Pakistan’s borders.  They regard terrorism as a tool in a broader arsenal against Pakistan’s foes, making the country a state sponsor of terrorism in the truest sense of the phrase.

Designating a foreign spy service as a terrorist entity wouldn’t be such a major leap as it appears at first blush.  Interrogators at Guantanamo Bay are already trained to treat detainees affiliated with ISI the same way they would treat detainees affiliated with Al Qaeda or the Taliban.  The approach is partly due to evidence of ISI’s role in coordinating terrorist groups in operations targeting Afghanistan and India.

There is already some support for such sanctions.  Bruce Riedel, former CIA official and senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, called for individual sanctions against ISI officials.  New York writer Suketu Mehta said “America and other countries should declare Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, some of whose officials have a long history of backing terrorists attacking India, ‘a terrorist entity’.”  The Afghan National Security Council also expressed strong support last year for designating the ISI as a terrorist organization (see here and here).

Are there arguments against levying sanctions against the ISI?  Yes.  Pakistan could retaliate by ceasing its assistance to us while our troops are still fighting in Afghanistan.  But if it weren’t for Pakistan playing midwife to the Taliban, and the Taliban subsequently partnering with Al Qaeda, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 wouldn’t have happened in the first place.  It makes little sense to mollycoddle the puppet master because we think it will help us attack the puppet.

Unfortunately, sanctions often don’t achieve the desired results.  Foreign aid is fungible, and if the U.S. and U.K. continue bestowing lavish foreign aid upon Pakistan, the government there will simply be able to move money from development and education projects toward military and intelligence operations.

But to the extent that we use sanctions at all as an instrument of foreign policy, it should be done for the right reasons.  Lately we use sanctions like a necktie that we wear to look fashionable, while absentmindedly dangling the tie over a paper shredder.  Rather than a entangling ourselves in the regional or internal affairs of bad actors in places where we have few interests, sanctions should be used as a tool used to serve our own national security interests, and to contain those whose actions do us harm.

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How jizya funds terror groups

March 21, 2014

The traditional Islamic tax on non-Muslims, jizya, which is imposed by various terrorist and militant groups across the Islamic world today, is frequently viewed singularly as a problem of religious persecution.

While the maltreatment of non-Muslim minorities is indeed a serious problem, what’s often overlooked is how jizya serves as a revenue generator for terrorist groups.  It’s time to look at some of the basics of this problem:

Who benefits from jizya?

What do they spend jizya on?

  • Paying wages to fighters and operatives
  • Buying weapons, equipment, and supplies.  (For example, the Assyrian International News Agency reported that one jizya collector “demanded 10,000 Egyptian pounds so that he could buy weapons.”  Another observer recently wrote that the imposition of jizya in Iraq is because “ISIL needs money to buy arms off the black market.”)
  • Planning and carrying out terrorist attacks

Where does this happen?

  • Pakistan
  • Philippines
  • Egypt
  • Iraq
  • Syria

When

Officially, jizya was collected by the Caliphate for twelve centuries from the time of Muhammad at least until the Tanzimat decree of the Ottoman Empire in 1856, and existed in a more limited form under alternate names into the 1900s.  Jizya has experienced a revival over the last two decades, during which time it has been collected mostly by non-state actors, but sometimes with government approval right up to the present day.

Why

In addition to being a terrorist income source, jizya is mandated by the Qur’an and serves as an inducement to non-Muslims to convert to Islam.

Jizya can no longer be written off or ignored by count-terror analysts solely as an indicator of religious persecution.  It must be viewed as a threat and risk to security because its collection in modern times primarily benefits terrorists.

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Time for due diligence on welfare recipients?

March 19, 2014

This piece also appears at Terror Finance Blog:

The family of Boston marathon bombers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev received over $100,000 in public benefits from 2002 to 2012 according to documents compiled a year ago from state agencies by the Massachusetts House Committee on Post Audit and Oversight.

The aid included food stamps and welfare benefits to the Tsarnaevs’ parents and to Katherine Russell, Tamerlan’s wife.  Dzhokhar Tsarnaev also received student financial aid and forbearance (although he probably omitted income from drug sales and auto repair referral kickbacks on his student aid application).

Public benefits, being somewhat fungible, free up money for the recipient to put toward purposes separate from what was intended.  During the period of time that Katherine Russell received food stamps and welfare payments (2011 through 2012), Tamerlan was able to fly to Russia in early 2012 to seek out radical connections.  In effect, the benefits that Tamerlan and Katherine received through her name may have enabled the purchase of Tamerlan’s plane ticket to the jihadi rat’s nest of the North Caucasus.

The question of public benefits funding terrorists in Boston comes after years of ongoing scandals documented in Great Britain, where dangerous Islamists like Abu Yahya, Anjem Choudary, Emdadur Choudhury, and Abu Qatada have had their homes, welfare benefits, and legal expenses paid from taxpayer money.  “Twentieth” 9/11 hijacker Zacarias Moussaoui also received welfare benefits in England, along with the family of Abu Hamza.  Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia have also dealt with the same exploitation of their generous public benefit programs by Islamists.

Several of these abuses probably occurred because of guidance that individual benefit recipients received from radical imams in their communities. Deceased terrorist imam Anwar al-Awlaki once wrote in Inspire magazine that, “All of our [Islamic] scholars agree on the permissibility of taking away the wealth of the disbelievers in dār al-ĥarb [the non-Muslim world] whether by means of force or by means of theft or deception,” for the purposes of carrying out jihad.  And the same Anjem Choudary mentioned above once encouraged Muslims living in the U.K. to collect public benefits as “jihad seeker’s allowance” instead of getting a job.

In light of this problem, it may be time to contemplate whether government agencies that issue public benefits should be required to adhere to the same know-your-customer provisions and due diligence requirements under which private sector financial institutions already operate.

Banks are required to conduct due diligence on account holders by carrying out activities like cross-checking their names against databases of sanctioned individuals or politically-exposed persons to help ensure that the bank is not assisting the customer in carrying out financial crimes such as money laundering, sanctions evasion, terrorist financing, graft, or other offenses.  Bank employees also have mechanisms and the responsibility to file reports when suspicious activity is observed.

However, there appears to be no equivalent legal requirement for government agencies that provide public benefits such as welfare payments, food stamps, or tuition assistance to undertake these due diligence and reporting functions.  Agencies screen applicant eligibility for a variety of public benefits (such as proof of financial need for student aid, and proof that you are actively seeking employment to obtain jobless benefits, etc.), but this screening tends to focus on the applicant’s legal eligibility for the benefit rather than on the risk that the benefit may be diverted by the recipient toward criminal or terrorist enterprises.

Neither is there a uniform standard for government agencies to report criminal misuse of public benefits to a central authority.  Rather, suspicions of fraudulent claims are handled differently by every agency awarding benefits, with different mechanisms for investigating and denying claims.  And again, the benefit fraud cases are focused on false claims by recipients who never should have received the benefit, and rarely target individuals who receive a benefit lawfully but misappropriate that benefit toward unauthorized purposes.

Should an assessment of high risk or an OFAC database name match be grounds for the denial of the benefit?  Perhaps not, but at least the filing of a suspicious activity report by a government compliance officer would provide additional data points for regulators to review and share with law enforcement as needed.

If due diligence requirements are worthwhile enough for the federal government to impose on the private sector, the private sector financial institutions have a right to ask the government to eat its own cooking.  This expansion of know-your-customer provisions to the government sector would seem especially important considering statements by radical imams and actions by terrorists like the Tsarnaev brothers to use public benefits to finance their planning and terrorist operations.

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Treasury official says Qatar sponsors terrorism

March 14, 2014

In the bluntest comments yet by U.S. officials about Qatar’s role in financing international terrorism, Treasury undersecretary David Cohen cited Qatar while speaking about state sponsors of terrorism during remarks to the Center for a New American Security on March 4.

Cohen referred to Qatar immediately after stating that “Iran is not the only state that provides financial support for terrorist organizations.”  Cohen pointed to Qatar’s funding of Hamas and terrorists in Syria as problematic areas.

Previously, Treasury officials have stopped just short of suggesting official state sponsorship by the Qatari monarchy, focusing rather on private fundraisers and donor networks based in Qatar.

Excerpts from Cohen’s speech follow.  Kuwait doesn’t come off too in his remarks either:

…But, distressingly, Iran is not the only state that provides financial support for terrorist organizations.

Most notably, Qatar, a longtime U.S. ally, has for many years openly financed Hamas, a group that continues to undermine regional stability.  Press reports indicate that the Qatari government is also supporting extremist groups operating in Syria.  To say the least, this threatens to aggravate an already volatile situation in a particularly dangerous and unwelcome manner.

With new leadership in Doha, we remain hopeful that Qatar – a country that in other respects has been a constructive partner in countering terrorism – will continue to work closely with us to oppose and combat those who adhere to the warped and murderous ideology of Hamas and al-Qa’ida…

[A] number of fundraisers operating in more permissive jurisdictions – particularly in Kuwait and Qatar – are soliciting donations to fund extremist insurgents, not to meet legitimate humanitarian needs.  The recipients of these funds are often terrorist groups, including al-Qa’ida’s Syrian affiliate, al-Nusrah Front, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the group formerly known as al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI)…

Constraining this flow of funds is particularly challenging in an era when social media allows anyone with an Internet connection to set himself up as an international terrorist financier.  We see this activity most prominently in Kuwait and Qatar, where fundraisers aggressively solicit donations online from supporters in other countries, notably Saudi Arabia, which have banned unauthorized fundraising campaigns for Syria.

Private fundraising networks in Qatar, for instance, increasingly rely upon social media to solicit donations for terrorists and to communicate with both donors and recipient radicals on the battlefield.  This method has become so lucrative, and Qatar has become such a permissive terrorist financing environment, that several major Qatar-based fundraisers act as local representatives for larger terrorist fundraising networks that are based in Kuwait…

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Recognizing the risks of Somali remittances

March 11, 2014

This piece is also appearing over at Terror Finance Blog today:

Last week, Bell State Bank in North Dakota announced that it would stop doing business with companies that remit money to Somalia.  The move follows decisions by Minnesota banks in 2011 to stop providing Somali remittance services, and an attempt by Barclays last year to cut off its partnership with Dahabshiil, a money transfer company with primary operations in Somalia.  The banks have been challenged in courts on both sides of the Atlantic, and advocacy groups have heavily criticized the banks’ decisions on humanitarian grounds.

Indeed, humanitarian considerations are of the utmost importance.  Unfortunately, money transferred to Somalia, particularly through Dahabshiil, all too often falls into the wrong hands and perpetuates the cycle of violence in Somalia.  Banks should stand fast in their original decisions, and here are five reasons why:

  1. The risks are real.  The frequency of cases involving Somalis in the West transferring funds to al-Shabaab over the last few years presents genuine concerns to financial institutions.  For instance, four men in California were found guilty last year of transferring money to al-Shabaab through Shidaal Express, a Somali hawala business.  Two Somali women in Minnesota were sentenced in 2013 for sending money to al-Shabaab through several remittance channels including local hawala dealers and Dahabshiil.  A Saudi-American was also indicted last year for wiring money to al-Shabaab.  In 2012, a man in London admitting transferring £8,900 to fighters in Somalia.  Danish intelligence revealed in 2012 that the equivalent of thousands of dollars a day is sent to terrorist organizations outside of Denmark—mostly to Somalia, and often unwittingly.  In addition to genuine risks on the ground in Somalia, Western banks have real reasons for concern that if they continue relationships with Dahabshiil, they could subsequently be fined by regulators at a future date if political winds change.  U.S. banks are surely aware, for example, that decisions on whether to fine, settle with, or prosecute banks with lax compliance programs have a great deal to do with the shifting political and prosecutorial priorities of whoever happens to be in charge at the Department of Justice and the financial regulatory agencies.  One official may take a very friendly view toward facilitating Somali remittances this year, but a different person will be calling the shots two years from now.
  2. The risks are not decreasing.  Gone are the days of 2012 when al-Shabaab appeared to be on the ropes in 2012 both financially and militarily.  Al-Shabaab was able to turn around its financial situation after the fall of Kismayo by cutting deals with occupying forces.  Al-Shabaab continues to profit from imposing taxes on commodities such as charcoal and sugar, and their role as ivory trade middlemen between poachers and buyers appears to be growing.  Al-Shabaab is still capable of carrying out devastating strikes such as the Westgate Mall attack and the recent assault against Somalia’s presidential palace that left 11 dead.
  3. Dahabshiil poses a unique risk.  Western readers should be aware of independent reports by the Somali diaspora news media that Dahabshiil finances terrorism.  According to reports by Waagacusub, Kalshaale, and Suna Times, Dahabshiil pays one-half million dollars twice a year to al-Shabaab. The payments allegedly resumed last year after a brief dispute during which Dahabshiil had ceased making payments.  One Guantanamo Bay detainee previously worked for Dahabshiil, and the presiding officer at a hearing for that detainee determined that his Dahabshiil branch transferred money for terrorism.  However, coverage of these allegations has been limited partly due from legal threats against journalists and online reputation management by Dahabshiil. Read the rest of this entry ?
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Guantanamo detainees endorse crowdfunding

March 7, 2014

This piece by Money Jihad blogger A.D. Kendall has been published today at Terror Finance Blog:

Five detainees at Guantanamo Bay have drawn up a lengthy business plan for an agricultural venture in Yemen as part as an instructional exercise.  The document was approved for release last month by military officials.  Judicial Watch rightly observes that the level of detail in the plan shows that the detainees “had access to many research tools, likely on the internet.”  Although the business proposal appears to be only a classroom activity and not an actual, shovel-ready project, the language in the document indicates that terrorists would be comfortable with crowdfunding as a sharia-compliant platform to raise money.

In their business proposal, the self-described “Board of Directors of Yemen Milk & Honey Farms Ltd” specifically mentions Kickstarter, RocketHub, and other crowdfunding platforms as options for financing their project.  They also note that crowdfunding can be equity-based, lending-based, reward-based, or donation-based.  After reviewing their alternatives, the board concludes that they would like their financing be “equity based or reward based, as the board has observed [that the] interest-based economy is facing serious problems world wide, specifically in Europe and America.”

Using the recession has been a convenient target for Islamist criticism of the Western financial system since 2009, ignoring the fact that the West still leads the world across any recognized standard of economic development and standard of living, and ignoring the larger context of long-term economic success of the West compared to the economic failures of the interest-shunning Arab world over several centuries.  But regardless of current or historical economic conditions, the truth is that the “board members” would still oppose interest on religious grounds.  Riba, the word used in Islamic texts for interest, is the same Arabic word that applies to unnatural growth and swelling akin to pond scum and asthma.

Islamic law allows for profit and investments involving co-ownership and profit sharing.  One such sharia financial concept that shares similar traits with crowdfunding is mudarabah, which Islamic finance lawyer John Dewar defines as, “An investment fund arrangement under which the financiers act as the capital providers (rab al-mal) and the client acts as the mudareb (akin to an investment agent) to invest the capital provided by the rab al-mal and manage the partnership.”  For a sharia crowdfunding project, the donors would serve as the rab al-mal.

Analysts for McKinsey & Co. further note that “Islamic commercial law strongly favors equity over debt financing, which suggests that crowdfund investing platforms are especially well suited to Muslim-majority countries. In our view, crowdfund investing and Islamic financial services are inherently compatible and mutually reinforcing.”

Thus, the business school at Camp 6 of Guantanamo prison is well-aligned with contemporary sharia financial strictures.  The “students” also appear to be one step ahead of regulators, who are just now developing anti-money laundering rules for crowdfunded projects which are be vulnerable to financial crime and exploitation.  As AML attorney Christine Duhaime summed up crowdfunding risks last fall, “The combined effect of crowdfunded securities being low-priced, placed in offerings that are exempt from [SEC] registration and not subject to the filing review process of a registered offering, makes crowdfunding open to being used as a vehicle for money laundering and other financial crimes.”

In addition to crowdfunding regulations currently under review, stronger terms of service by the crowdfunding companies may be in order to prevent exploitation of their websites by users who promote violence, illicit activities, or otherwise serve the interests of criminals and terrorists.

Worrisome projects include a Kickstarter project in 2012 that billed itself as “your chance to become part of the Arab Spring.”  If the two men who proposed the project had received the $20,000 they sought, they pledged to “travel together to Syria and join the rebels on the front line against the dictator Bashar al-Assad.”  Late last year, Forbes reported that an anarchist launched a crowdfunded bitcoin-based “assassination market.”  Read the rest of this entry ?

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Spotlight: terror finance in the Netherlands

February 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.

Dutch zakat

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.

In April 2011, the Netherlands froze the assets of the Dutch branch of the Turkish, pro-Hamas charity IHH.  A court later overturned the freeze, and IHH Nederland continues to operate in Holland.

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.

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What’s really behind the Saudi rewards program

February 16, 2014

Saudi Arabia says it will offer rewards to people within the kingdom who provide evidence about terrorist financing that leads to a conviction (hat tip to El Grillo).

It has been rumored that the maneuver is designed to reign in Saudi-backed elements among the Syrian rebels whom Saudi Arabia can no longer control.

Money Jihad suspects that the initiative, which resembles the U.S. Rewards for Justice program, is a Saudi smokescreen designed to placate Western diplomats, U.S. Treasury officials, and international financial watchdog FATF.

Unfortunately, this wouldn’t be the first instance of Saudi deception about a counter-terror finance initiative.

In 2008, Saudi Arabia announced that its central bank, SAMA, would review charitable contributions from Saudi Arabia overseas (which are rife with donations to terrorist causes), but meaningful oversight has never occurred.  Saudi public statements about the SAMA program have been documented to be false.

In 2010, Saudi Arabia’s ulema council issued a ruling against terrorism, but the very same ruling defended zakat, which has often been used by wealthy Saudis to finance terrorist causes.  Saudi pronouncements against terrorism have often focused on protecting its own oil and gas infrastructure, and have pointedly excluded suicide bombers in Israel or Iraq from its definition of terrorism.

In 2014 we are told that Saudi Arabia will pay rewards to those who provide information about terror finance.  If this is actually enforced, Money Jihad predicts that it will be used against Shia dissidents, particularly in its oil rich, Shia-dominant Eastern Province (see related commentary by Amy Myers Jaffe here), or against those who transfer money to Shias in Bahrain or Syria.

It will not be used to curtail Saudi money flowing to Somalia, Bangladesh, Chechnya, or any of the other countries where Saudi Arabia has strategic interests.

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