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

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Salaam African Bank mum on pirates’ accounts

March 30, 2015

The chairman of Salaam African Bank has declined to cooperate with UN investigators about several accounts allegedly held at the bank by piracy financiers. One of those financiers may also be a family friend of a formerly sanctioned business partner of Osama Bin Laden.

The UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea named two pirate leaders, Mohamed Abdi Hassan “Afweyne” and a pirate negotiator named “Ali,” who have deposited money with Salaam, in its October 2014 report.

Afweyne is a pirate hijacker currently awaiting trial in Belgium who reportedly maintains a nearly $1 million account with Salaam Financial Services Bank—a Salaam African Bank affiliate—in Hargeisa, Somalia. Afweyne also holds two accounts with Salaam Somali Bank in Mogadishu, which is also affiliated with Salaam African Bank.

Ali, who has negotiated ransom payments on behalf of Somali pirates in several hijacking cases, is a friend and business partner of the alleged first cousin and son-in-law of Ali Ahmed Nur Jim’ale. Jim’ale was the owner of al-Barakaat, a bank which was until recently sanctioned by the United Nations. The 9/11 Commission said that U.S. intelligence agents believed Osama Bin Laden was Jim’ale’s silent partner in the creation of al-Barakaat.

The association between Ali and Jim’ale’s family, if verified, would serve as evidence of the long-speculated but unproved financial relationship between Somali pirates and Al Qaeda.

In response to the Monitoring Group’s questions about Afewyne and Ali, Salaam African Bank’s chairman, Ismail Egal, “indicated that the bank had no desire” to assist in the investigation. The central bank of Djibouti was also uncooperative in confirming the information gathered by the Monitoring Group.

The Monitoring Group has called for international sanctions against Somali pirate leadership, but those sanctions have not been levied. This state of affairs “has allowed pirate leaders, investors and facilitators, not only to invest their illegally acquired funds into other business ventures, but also to keep those funds in bank accounts, transfer them to business partners, launder them overseas or support family and friends in the diaspora,” according to the report.

Hat tip to Ayaamo News.

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10 red flags over Dahabshiil

February 28, 2015

Does the international remittance company Dahabshiil finance terrorism? Are its anti-money laundering and counter-terror finance programs adequate? Here are 10 warning signs to keep in mind:

  1. Mohammed Sulaymon Barre, a Somali citizen and former Guantanamo Bay detainee, was alleged by U.S. officials to have worked in Osama bin Laden’s compound in Sudan in 1994 and 1995. He later worked at a Dahabshiil office in Pakistan before his detention. During a 2005 hearing at Guantanamo, a military judge told Barre, “I am convinced that your branch of the Dahabshiil company was used to transfer money for terrorism.” (Source: Washington Post).
  2. In early 2011, Somali music star and future member of Somalia’s parliament, Saado Ali Warsame, released a protest song entitled, “Dhiigshiil ha dhigan” (which translates as “Don’t Deposit with Dahabshiil” or “Don’t send your money through Dahabshiil”). The song called Dahabshiil a “blood-smelter,” “the enemy of Somalia,” and implored Somalis: “do not deposit your money” with Dahabshiil. (Source: Money Jihad)
  3. In late 2011, the Bell Pottinger public relations and lobbying firm cited its success in “manipulating Google rankings” on behalf of its client Dahabshiil to ensure that the Guantanamo Bay detainee story about Mohammed Sulaymon Barre didn’t appear on the first 10 pages of Google search results. (Source: The Independent)
  4. Amina Farah Ali and Hawo Mohamed Hassan were convicted in October 2011 on federal charges of providing material support to the terrorist group al-Shabaab. The indictment had alleged that “Ali and others acting at her direction transmitted funds to al-Shabaab through the hawala money remittance system” using Dahabshiil and other remitters. (Source: U.S. v. Amina Farah Ali)
  5. In December 2011, Minneapolis-based Franklin Bank and St. Paul-based Sunrise Community Banks ceased doing business with Somali hawala dealers and money transfer organizations including Dahabshiil over “concerns that the accounts put them at risk of violating federal rules designed to halt terror financing.” (Source: Minneapolis Star Tribune).
  6. The British banking giant Barclays announced its intentions to sever ties with Dahabshiil in 2013 over regulatory compliance and terror financing concerns. (Source: Associated Press.) Litigation ensued which delayed Barclays’s plans, but a deal to end their business relationship was finally reached in April 2014. (Source: Financial Times)
  7. In April 2014, U.S. Bancorp backed out of a long-planned deal with Dahabshiil after “an independent review of Dahabshiil and the inherent risk of doing business in Somalia.” (Source: American Banker)
  8. Danish regulators found Dahabshiil offices in Copenhagen, Kolding, Aalborg, and Aarhus to be “completely inadequate” in their compliance with anti-money laundering and terrorist financing laws in Denmark, and referred the case to police for further investigation in July 2014. (Source: Danish Financial Supervisory Authority)
  9. Somali news outlets reported in July 2014 that several Dahabshiil offices in Middle and Lower Juba were ordered by al-Shabaab to be closed after failing to make payments to al-Shabaab on time. (Sources: Radio Kulmiye, Shiniile News, and Dayniile)
  10. Merchants Bank of California announced this month that it is ending its Somali remittance services including Dahabshiil accounts amidst “concerns that some money could be making its way to Islamic militants.” (Source: KARE 11)

Dahabshiil denies all allegations of financing terrorism.

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Iran still won’t sign accord against terror finance

February 23, 2015

The International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism went into effect in 2002. Over 180 countries have signed the rather bland convention. But not Iran.

Not that we could take Iran at its word, but shouldn’t they agree to sign the convention prior to concluding a deal with Iran about their nuclear program?

Lebanon hasn’t signed it either. Other non-signatory countries with Islamist political movements include The Gambia and Chad. But they don’t have nuclear programs.

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Where the D.C. sniper got his money

February 16, 2015

Thirteen years ago today, John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo began a series of shootings that would culminate with the Washington, D.C.-area sniper killings of October 2002. Their first victim was a then 21-year-old Keenya Cook, who survived a point blank gunshot to the head in Washington state in February 2002.

Livelihood before the killing spree

Muhammad served in the U.S. military from 1978 to 1994. With 17 years in service, he would have been three years shy of receiving an Army pension. As a civilian in the 1990s, Muhammad tried to make ends meet by starting a business, but the Washington Post called Muhammad “a serial loser” and “failed businessman whose karate school and car-repair business went bust.” He had hoped to teach karate to Muslim boys but there wasn’t enough demand.

In 1994, Muhammad began attending Nation of Islam meetings, and formally joined in 1997. The Nation of Islam Muhammad denied that Muhammad served as a paid security guard during the Million Man March in 1995, and said it ultimately “lost contact” with Muhammad in 1999.

Around that time, Muhammad traveled to Antigua, where he began making money by forging citizenship documents for Jamaicans at $3,000 per set. The buyers would use these forged documents to gain entry into the U.S. This is how Muhammad met Malvo, a Jamaican teen attempting to immigrate illegally into the U.S.

2002

After shooting Keenya Cook, unemployed drifters Muhammad and Malvo left Washington on a cross-country odyssey until their main shooting spree in the fall. How did they pay for basic necessities and travel? The answer is probably through crime.

For example, Muhammad stole steaks from a grocery store in February. He and Malvo lived in homeless shelters. In March of that year, the pair stole a credit card from a Greyhound bus driver in Arizona. (Muhammad didn’t use this card for any expenses except for a $12 purchase at a gas station. But it was Muhammad’s intention to use this stolen account to receive a future ransom from authorities in exchange for stopping the October shootings.) In August, Malvo stole the wallet of one of their shooting victims in Louisiana. In September they robbed a liquor store in Alabama.

DC sniper attacks

Muhammad had larger ambitions than sleeping in cars and eating stolen food for the rest of his life. According to Malvo, Muhammad wanted to establish a terrorist training camp for orphans and homeless boys. Muhammad believed that he could blackmail the authorities to give him $10 million to stop his killing spree. With that $10 million, he and Malvo would flee to Canada and build their encampment there. Prosecutors discounted this theory, alleging instead that Muhammad mainly wanted to regain custody of his children from his ex-wife, but the judge found that motive implausible.

Here’s an excerpt from the $10 million ransom note Muhammad left for police in the middle of his killing spree:

Letter from the D.C. sniper

While there is no evidence of foreign sponsorship behind the D.C. sniper’s attacks, it is worth noting that the Taliban came into existence by recruiting from orphanages and madrassas in Pakistan. Like them, Muhammad somehow got the idea that starting such a camp would be a goal worth killing for. Law enforcement said that Muhammad “modeled himself” after Osama Bin Laden.

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The 13 sitting senators who used to support disclosure of Saudi funding of 9/11 hijackers

January 18, 2015

Saudi Arabia provided some financial and logistical support to the 9/11 hijackers through interlocutors in San Diego and Sarasota prior to the attacks of 2001. Congress released a report in 2002 about intelligence failures and investigative shortcomings before and after the attacks. A 28 page classified portion of that report dealt with the Saudi role. In 2003, 46 senators signed a letter urging Bush to declassify that section. Thirteen of those senators are still in office, but they have been virtually silent on the subject of declassification since Obama’s inauguration. They are:

  • Harry Reid (D-NV), minority leader
  • Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
  • Maria Cantwell (D-WA)
  • Tom Carper (D-DE)
  • Richard Durbin (D-IL)
  • Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
  • Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)
  • Patty Murray (D-WA)
  • Bill Nelson (D-FL)
  • Jack Reed (D-RI)
  • Chuck Schumer (D-NY)
  • Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
  • Ron Wyden (D-OR)

Other signatories of the letter included Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and John Kerry. They should all publicly reaffirm their support for transparency on this subject. A bipartisan bill in the House currently has more than 20 co-sponsors for declassification of the 28 pages.

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The $20,000 behind the Paris attacks came “from abroad”

January 14, 2015

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) gave $20,000 to future Charlie Hebdo attacker Said Kouachi before he and his brother left Yemen in August 2011 according to CBS News yesterday (h/t El Grillo), which supports Money Jihad analysis of the Kouachis’ funding earlier this week. The report also adds credibility to claims by AQAP and Cherif Kouachi himself that the Charlie Hebdo attacks were planned, ordered, and financed by AQAP itself. The physical transfer of funds to Kouachi suggests that bulk cash smuggling (or the smuggling of other financial instruments) back to Europe was the method used rather than a wire, hawala transaction, or trade-based money laundering operation.

Relatedly, the Associated Press reported weapons for the Paris terrorist attacks came from abroad:

Several people are being sought in relation to the “substantial” financing of the three gunmen behind the terror campaign, said Christophe Crepin, a French police union official. The gunmen’s weapons stockpile came from abroad, and the size of it plus the military sophistication of the attacks indicated an organized terror network, he added.

“This cell did not include just those three, we think with all seriousness that they had accomplices, because of the weaponry, the logistics and the costs of it,” Crepin said. “These are heavy weapons. When I talk about things like a rocket launcher – it’s not like buying a baguette on the corner, it’s for targeted acts.”

The Belgian daily La Dernière Heure corroborates that several of the weapons acquired by the Kouachi brothers and Amedy Coulibaly were bought in Brussels.

The $20,000 figure reported by CBS is also consistent with an estimate over the weekend from counterterror expert Jean-Paul Rouiller. Bloomberg Businessweek reported:

…The Kalashnikov rifles and other weapons used by the attackers, Chérif and Saïd Kouachi and Amedy Coulibaly, likely cost less than €10,000 ($11,800), according to Jean-Paul Rouiller, director of the Geneva Centre for Training and Analysis of Terrorism, a Swiss research group. Including the cost of Saïd Kouachi’s 2011 trip to Yemen, where he may have received training from al-Qaeda, the total price tag for the deadly attacks by the three men might have reached about $20,000…

Bloomberg went on to report that, “for what Rouiller describes as ‘such a low-cost operation,’ financing from abroad would be unlikely”—a theory that now seems to have been disproved by the evidence.

Regardless of where it is finally determined that the funds for the weapons originated, it should be kept in mind that the direct expenses of the Kouachi brothers and Amedy Coulibaly aren’t the only expenditures that matter. The weapons training camp in Yemen that both Kouachi brothers attended in 2011 wasn’t “self-financed” by individual AQAP recruits. The militants at the AQAP camp that trained the Kouachi brothers didn’t self-finance their own wages. The human smuggling network that helped sneak the Kouachi brothers across the border from Oman into Yemen isn’t self-financed. Anwar al-Awlaki, the terrorist imam with whom the Kouachi brothers met while in Yemen and possibly assigned them their marching orders, was not self-financed either. Not to mention that the Kouachi brothers’ basic cost of living in Paris probably wasn’t met by part-time work delivering pizzas and gutting fish at the market.

We will also discover over time that the websites, texts, and videos that the Kouachis and Coulibaly consumed, like most Islamic radical materials, are generally produced by entities backed by Wahhabi patrons. It is important to think of the bigger picture not just of the money it took to carry out the Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher operations, but the amount of money it takes to sustain a terrorist infrastructure in Yemen (and beyond) that these sleeper cells count on for arms, training and guidance.

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2011: France may have paid AQAP $12m ransom

January 13, 2015

In March 2011, three French citizens working for the Lyon-based charity Triangle Génération Humanitaire traveled to Hadramawt, Yemen. Agricultural engineer Pierre Perrault, age 29 at the time; fellow engineer and wife Leah Romary, age 25; and water treatment specialist Amelie Morgaut, age 32, intended to assist local authorities with infrastructure improvement projects, which they did until late May of that year until they were abducted by terrorist-affiliated tribesmen.

Perrault, Romary and Morgaut remained in captivity for six months in the typical fashion of kidnappers in that region of the world, which involves transferring hostages among different groups and locations.  But the strings were ultimately being pulled by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). In July, AQAP demanded $12 million from France for the aid workers’ release. French officials didn’t immediately comply, but began third party negotiations with AQAP through interlocutors of the sultan of Oman.

In November, the negotiations concluded. A “senior Yemeni tribal mediator” confirmed to the Associated Press that a ransom had been paid for the hostages’ release. The formal payment was made jointly by a Yemeni businessman living in Oman, Ahmed Ben Férid al-Souraimeh, and by the government of Oman, but Oman was most likely reimbursed by French intelligence behind the scenes.

Officially, France says it does not pay ransoms and did not pay a ransom in this case.  But diplomats, security experts, and terrorist groups themselves know that France does in fact pay ransoms quietly through third parties. France has paid $58 million to terrorist groups for the release of French hostages worldwide since 2008 according to the New York Times.

The Triangle Génération Humanitaire aid workers’ captivity overlapped the July to August 2011 time period in which French-Algerian brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi traveled to Yemen (via Oman) for weapons training and to meet with terrorist imam Anwar al-Awlaki.

The payment of a ransom in Yemen within a few months of the Kouachi brothers’ Yemen tour would have been useful to AQAP to fund the continued purchase of weapons for use in Yemen, to maintain training camps in Yemen, to pay wages of militants and marksmanship trainers Yemen, to cover the air travel and border crossing expenses for prospective recruits, to fund the possible remote purchase of AK-47s and RPGs on the black market in France, and to fund planning and communications for future attacks.

After slaying 12 people at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris last Wednesday but shortly before his death on Friday, Cherif Kouachi said that he had been financed by AQAP.

In order to have an honest discussion about whether it is proper to pay ransoms to terrorist groups, we must—as grateful as we are all for the release of the Triangle Génération Humanitaire aid workers—acknowledge the distinct probability that the ransom paid in that case may have been more detrimental than helpful to the long-term security interests of France.

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