An interview with Money Jihad blogger A.D. Kendall appears in the international section of today’s edition of the Spain-based daily La Razon. The interview deals with support by the Gulf monarchies for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Click on the image below or put on your bifocals to read it:
Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category
How Kuwait came to be such a major regional player in the financing of radical rebels in Syria is the subject of a recent interview with Elizabeth Dickens of the Brookings Institute conducted by Syria Deeply, a website run by journalists. Dickens chalks Kuwait’s ascendance as a financier up to:
- Lax regulation (ie, the failure of Kuwait to criminalize terrorist financing until recently)
- Business ties between Kuwait and Syria
- Numerous, experienced NGOs operate in Kuwait
Here’s an excerpt of the interview, with thanks to Arye Leonid Glozman for sending over a link:
Syria Deeply: Why has Kuwait emerged as a financing and organizational hub for charities and individuals supporting Syria’s rebel groups?
Elizabeth Dickinson: It’s a perfect storm. Kuwait has all the things that one would need to set up such a financing hub. The most important thing it has, or that it had until very recently, was extremely lax regulation. So after Sept. 11, most of the Gulf states had these really strict counterterrorism financing laws that gave them the ability to stop any suspicious transactions very swiftly, and they were cooperating with Western intelligence to build their capacity to find any suspicious transactions in the banking system.
Kuwait, however, did not do that, and its counterterror financing law basically said nothing about terrorist financing being illegal. And its central bank just didn’t have any investigative capacity – so even if they did want to stop something from going on, they wouldn’t really have the ability to investigate and figure out how to stop it.
Factor number two is extremely deep ties between Kuwait and Syria. Before the conflict started, Kuwaiti investors were among the single largest direct foreign investor in Syria, so there’s a lot of really longstanding business ties. You have a lot of Kuwaitis with homes and businesses in Syria, with Syrian wives. So there’s a really close personal connection there. There’s also 120,000 Syrian expats in Kuwait, which is a lot considering the population of Kuwait is only 3 million people.
Then you have all the factors that have made the Gulf a hub for financing – you have a lot of money, and a lot of people who are personally affected by what’s going on in Syria. I’ve had lots of people start crying in meetings there. They had the willpower to start getting involved.
The last part of this perfect storm is that Kuwait has the longest history in the Gulf of charitable and humanitarian work. Because of its relatively open political system, people living in Kuwait are allowed to start NGOs, there are private charities that are private, not semi-state organizations like they would be in Saudi Arabia. The Kuwaitis have a lot of experience doing project finance, going into a country and building mosques, wells and schools. The infrastructure of charitable giving is really strong there, and it has allowed a lot of people with expertise to move into sectors of aid that are more geared towards the military side.
There’s a lot of overlap – sheikhs will do a fundraiser for the mujahideen and their weapons … and hospitals.
Kuwait’s ability to be a hub was recognized early in the conflict by other Gulf citizens who were interested in getting financially involved in Syria. If I’m a Saudi and I want to give money to the rebels in Syria, I’m probably aware that my government is not going to look favorably upon that, so individuals elsewhere in the Gulf rely on bundlers in Kuwait to accept their donations on their behalf, and then the donations go from Kuwait to Syria, rather than directly from Saudi to Syria.
SD: What’s the breakdown of where the money from Kuwait is going?
ED: We have rough ideas of how much it is and where it’s going. Among the pro-rebel groups, the vast majority of the money is going to groups that are in the Islamic Front, like Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam. There’s evidence that funds are going to Jabhat al-Nusra…
Ryan Mauro recently conducted an interview with Money Jihad which was published yesterday at RadicalIslam.org—a leading news site about the treat posed by Islamic fundamentalism. We covered a wide range of topics including what laws on terrorist financing are being insufficiently enforced, what countries are funding terrorism, and problems with hawala.
The full Q&A is available here. Here’s just a taste of our exchange:
Ryan Mauro: What methods are the Islamists using today to raise money, besides soliciting wealthy donors?
Money Jihad: Well, it’s not just about zakat from wealthy donors. Folks like Amina Farah Ali in Minnesota, Shabaaz Hussain in London, and Irfan Naseer in Birmingham have fundraised for relatively small donations from individual Muslims to support jihad overseas. A few thousand dollars from the West goes a long way to fund a holy warrior on the ground in Somalia.
But apart from zakat donations, there are a whole host of other Islamic taxes that receive less attention but are huge revenue stream for jihad. Western reporters call it extortion, but the mujahideen don’t look at it that way.
Take for example two terrorist organizations with a ground game: Al-Shabaab and the Taliban. They have fighters on the ground and control definite territory. Organizations like that rely to a great extent on levying Islamic taxes on the people under their jurisdiction. The Taliban still gets money from ushr, the Islamic tax on harvests, which includes poppy yields. Al Shabaab imposes harbor taxes, checkpoint taxes (a practice from the early days of Islam up through Ottoman times), and a zakat on the lucrative Somali charcoal trade.
Ransoms, which are also permitted against infidels by the Koran, are a major revenue source for organizations like AQIM and Abu Sayyaf. For Hezbollah, the West focuses on their drug money, but they get a lot of money from khums, the Shia Muslim tax on individual profit.
Counterfeiting, Sharia finance, street crimes, welfare fraud — those are all being used as well in different parts of the world to fund terrorism, individual Islamists or both…
Ryan Mauro asked some other great questions during the interview, such as: “Do you believe that the Muslim Brotherhood network in the U.S. has stopped financing Hamas since the shutting down of the Holy Land Foundation, deciding to solely focus on political influence instead?”
In addition to serving as the national security analyst for RadicalIslam.org, Mr. Mauro is also a Clarion Fund fellow, the founder of WorldThreats.com, and often appears on the Fox News Channel. It was a pleasure to be interviewed by him.
Sulaiman Al-Rahji, co-founder of the Sunni world’s largest sharia bank and one of Saudi Arabia’s richest men, has reportedly set aside all his wealth for an endowment (waqf) and inheritance by his children. Given the questions raised about his bank’s involvement in terrorist financing and fighting an investigation into the funding of 9/11, this development is not as heartwarming as the Arab News presents in a nearly 3,000 word article last month:
Saudi Arabia’s rags-to-riches billionaire Sulaiman Al-Rajhi is also a world-renowned philanthropist. He is the founder of Al-Rajhi Bank, the largest Islamic bank in the world, and one of the largest companies in Saudi Arabia. As of 2011, his wealth was estimated by Forbes to be $7.7 billion, making him the 120th richest person in the world. His flagship SAAR Foundation is a leading charity organization in the Kingdom. The Al-Rajhi family is considered as one of the Kingdom’s wealthiest non-royals, and among the world’s leading philanthropists.
Al-Rajhi is a billionaire who chose last year to become a poor man at his own will without having any cash or real estates or stocks that he owned earlier. He became penniless after transferring all his assets among his children and set aside the rest for endowments. In recognition of his outstanding work to serve Islam, including his role in establishing the world’s largest Islamic bank and his regular contribution toward humanitarian efforts to fight poverty, Al-Rajhi was chosen for this year’s prestigious King Faisal International Prize for Service to Islam.
In an interview with Muhammad Al-Harbi of Al-Eqtisadiah business daily, Al-Rajhi speaks about how he was able to succeed in convincing chiefs of the leading central banks in the world, including that of the Bank of England, nearly 30 years ago that interest is forbidden in both Islam and Christianity, and that the Islamic banking is the most effective solution to activate Islamic financing in the world and make it a real boost to the global economy.
The story of Al-Rajhi is that of a man who made his fortunes from scratch, relying on grit and determination. Al-Rajhi threw away his huge wealth through two windows — distributed a major part of his inheritance among his children and transferred another portion to endowments, which are regarded as the largest endowment in the history of the Islamic world. He had to fight poverty and suffering during his childhood before becoming a billionaire through hard work and relentless efforts, and then leaving all his fortunes to become penniless again.
Al-Rajhi is still very active and hardworking even in his 80s with youthful spirits. He begins his work daily after morning prayers and is active until Isha prayers before going to bed early. He is now fully concentrated on running the endowment project under his SAAR Foundation, and traveling various regions of the Kingdom managing activities related with it. He always carries a pocket diary containing his daily programs and activities and he is accustomed to stick on to the schedule he had prepared well in advance.
Al-Rajhi scored excellent performance results in almost all businesses in which he carved out a niche for himself. In addition to establishing the world’s largest Islamic bank, he founded the largest poultry farm in the Middle East. The credit of activating the organic farming experiment in the Kingdom mainly goes to him through launching a number of farming projects, including Al-Laith shrimp farming. He also established real estate and other investment projects.
Sheikh Suleiman, have you become a poor man again?
Yes. Now I own only my dresses. I distributed my wealth among my children and set aside a portion for endowment to run charity projects. As far as I am concerned, this situation was not a strange one. My financial condition reached zero point two times in my life, and therefore I have had the feeling and understanding (about poverty) well. But now the feeling is accompanied by happiness, relaxation and the peace of mind. The zero phase in life this time is purely because of my own decision and choice.
Why did you choose this path?
All wealth belongs to Allah, and we are only those who are entrusted (by God) to take care of them. There were several reasons that prompted me to distribute the wealth and that resulted in performing this virtue. Most important among them is to foster brotherhood and love among my children and safeguard their harmonious relationship. This is more significant than any wealth in this life. I was also keen not to be instrumental in wasting the precious time of courts in case of any differences of opinion among them with regard to partition of inheritance. There are several examples that everybody could see when children entered in dispute over wealth and that led to the collapse of companies. Nation has lost many large companies and their wealth that we could have been saved if we tackled the matter in a right manner. Apart from this, every Muslim should work on some endowments that could benefit him in the life after death. Likewise, I prefer my children to work on developing wealth, which they inherit after my death, during my lifetime itself rather than I continue working to increase them.
Are you getting enough free time after the distribution of wealth?
As earlier I am still working on developing endowments. I will donate and give alms from it until Allah takes over this trusted deposit. I have worked out a meticulous scheme for this endowment and developed it with the support of specialist consultants and agencies. This idea struck me long before. Usually people in the Islamic world set aside one-third or one-fourth of their wealth for endowment and that will be effective only after their death. But in my case, I decided to implement this decision in my lifetime itself. So I invited my children to Makkah during the end of Ramadan and presented the idea in front of them. They readily agreed it and then I distributed my wealth among my children in addition to setting aside a part of it for endowment. I sought the help of consultants to facilitate the procedures for the distribution of all my assets including properties, real estates and stocks, and that was completed in a cordial atmosphere. All my children are now fully satisfied with my initiative and they are now working on these properties in my lifetime.
How much wealth you distributed among children and set aside for endowment?
He laughed without giving an answer.
More from Douglas Wissing on the Taliban’s funding. His account of what a Kabul financial intelligence office analyst told him corresponds very closely to what Money Jihad has explained over the years about how broad-based and diverse the Taliban’s revenue streams are.
This comes from an interview Wissing did with Time Magazine’s “Battleland Blog” last month:
…[Battleland]: What share of the Taliban’s money do you estimate comes from illicit drugs? From the U.S. government?
[Wissing] I spent time in Afghanistan and in Washington trying to track that number down. One day at the U.S. embassy in Kabul, an American official serving in the Afghan Threat Finance Cell (ATFC) talked to me. The ATFC is comprised of about 30 specialists on loan from the Department of Drug Enforcement, the Department of Treasury, the Department of Justice, the Department of Defense’s CENTCOM, the CIA, and the FBI, who try to identify and disrupt sources Taliban funding. They are the experts.
The official told me that U.S. government officials estimated the insurgents’ annual budget to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. “Is it $1 billion? $500 million? The total amount is a tail people are going to chase until the end of time,” he told me. “We know they are raising substantial amounts of money; they can finance their operations. If you take away the Gulf money, they can make it up. If you take away the narco money, they can make it up. It’s like punching Jello.”
The official confirmed the U.S. and civilian reports that the insurgents used extortion of U.S. development and logistics contracts for their funding. He cited logistics-convoy security shakedowns, construction-protection rackets, Taliban “taxes” on corrupt officials, payoffs from international NGOs and major Afghan businesses—such as cell phones, utilities, and banks—as well as skims from poorly overseen Afghan government projects of the National Solidarity Program.
Citing the flood of American development and logistics money pouring into Afghanistan, the official said, “The more money that comes in here, the more opportunities, and then there’s a lot more exploitation, more corruption. And there’s a lot more money coming in here”…
Money Jihad recently sat down for an informative instant messaging interview with longtime reader and commenter Puneet Madaan. In this interview, Puneet shares his story about the murders of non-Muslims during the partition of India, which resulted in the deaths of 60 percent of the older generations of his family. Now living in Germany, Puneet finds that Europe is repeating the mistakes of India in the name of multiculturalism. For example, the number of dangerous mosques in Germany (often with funding from Turkey) is increasing exponentially, and the government encourages it or turns a blind eye. Puneet’s proposal? Learn from history and adopt a clear strategy to combat the problem.
MJ: Thanks for joining me for this IM interview! How are you doing?
Puneet: Fine, in fact, great. My last day in India, flying back to Germany tomorrow.
MJ: Were you in India on business or pleasure?
Puneet: Just on vacation at a pretty interesting time, especially seeing how anti-Israeli propaganda is being pushed in the Indian media, even though the Indian public is more pro-Israel.
MJ: Perhaps the media bias has something to do with the oil that India buys from Iran?
Puneet: Possibly. They were blaming Israel for the attack on Israeli embassy personnel in Delhi… I think we cannot fight it [radical Islam], till we put human rights above everything.
MJ: Speaking of human rights, you’ve mentioned that you used to be involved with the Human Rights Coalition Against Radical Islam. Could you say more about that?
Puneet: Yes, HRCARI was an initiative–a learning curve for many–and it even includes Darfuri Muslims. Yet the point I learned is the limitation on our side. I, myself, am not in a single organisation that has a real goal… and I think till we define a clear goal, we will be defensive and losing ground day by day. I do not want to say that one has to take weapon, but being on the offensive in an ideological war at least requires a clear goal, which is missing in ‘fighting terrorism’ side.
MJ: But you’re no longer involved with HRCARI?
Puneet: I’m one of the founding members, though I’m no more 100% active with it…
MJ: I see. You also contributed to http://www.islam-watch.org?
Puneet: Yes, I did, though I’m unsatisfied with it… not because I disagree, but rather because real change requires real debates and [bringing] taboo issues of Islam in public–issues like apartheid in Mecca and Medina, the mandatory 6th part of Islamic banking, etc. And lobbies [interest groups] are not doing enough in this front.
MJ: You’re saying that these groups aren’t doing enough?
Puneet: Definitely not … If they were, wouldn’t we have sanctions against Saudi Arabia for its official apartheid signs on roads?
MJ: Are people in the West are afraid to speak the truth? You never seem to be afraid. You’ve gotten into some verbal tussles with Muslim commenters on our blog who don’t like the truth. They don’t scare you?