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What can be done: looting counter-offensive

July 21, 2015

Deutsche Welle has interviewed archeologist Mark Altaweel about the Islamic State of Iraq’s plundering of antiquities.  DW asked Altaweel what can be done to help stop this problem, and he offered some good ideas:

First, try to learn a little bit from blood diamonds – put a stigma on these things so that people are not buying ancient antiquities. It’s hard to say for a lot of these things if they are truly coming from Syria or Iraq. I think if we put a negative stigma on buying antiquities – that would help. It’s not completely possible for the police to control this.

Second, I do think we need some kind of high-profile police action to put a little more deterrence and certainly tighten up the laws and continue to pressure countries like Turkey and Lebanon [to stop] receiving these objects near their borders. I know Turkey has been clamping down a little more lately, which is good. But Lebanon certainly needs to be held accountable.

Good point.  A UN resolution and a lawsuit by a dig site in Iraq against a museum in Istanbul or Beirut won’t get very far very fast.  But putting some dealers in jail immediately would make a definite impression.  Or arrest some of the middlemen smugglers and get them to turn against their overlords.

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Financial system compromised by Iran deal

July 20, 2015

The deal with Iran doesn’t just give a murderous regime $100 billion in sanctions relief.  It gives them ongoing access to the international financial system.  It will make their funding of Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps so much easier.  Expert analysis from Mark Dubowitz and Jonathan Schanzer writing in Foreign Policy last week:

It Just Got Easier for Iran to Fund Terrorism

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, did not enter into Tuesday’s historic deal with six world powers to reset relations with the West. It was the promise of more than $100 billion in sanctions relief, rather, that greased the wheels of the recently completed diplomacy in Vienna. And though the windfall of cash will certainly strengthen its position, the real prize for Iran was regaining access to a little-known, but ubiquitous banking system that has been off-limits to the country since March 2012.

SWIFT, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, is the electronic bloodstream of the global financial system. It is a member-owned cooperative comprising the most powerful financial institutions in the world, which allows more than 10,800 financial companies worldwide to communicate securely. It’s hard to find a bank that doesn’t use SWIFT to communicate with other banks — unless, of course, you’ve lived in Iran for the past few years.

SWIFT disconnected 15 Iranian banks from its system in 2012 after coming under pressure from both the United States and the European Union at the height of the effort to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions. It was a major blow to Tehran. Sure, it was how Iran sold oil, but it was also how Iranian banks moved money. According to SWIFT’s annual review, Iranian financial institutions used SWIFT more than 2 million times in 2010. These transactions, according to the Wall Street Journal, amounted to $35 billion in trade with Europe alone.

SWIFT is now poised to let those 15 banned Iranian banks, including the Central Bank of Iran, back in. But the move is controversial, to put it mildly. The system is subject to EU laws and international banking standards, which are unambiguous about terrorism finance. Deal or no deal, Iran remains a threat because of its past financing of terrorist networks. As recently as this past June, the Financial Action Task Force, a global anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism finance standards body, warned that Iran’s “failure to address the risk of terrorist financing” poses a “serious threat … to the integrity of the international financial system.”

Even U.S. President Barack Obama at his press conference this week acknowledged Iran’s “support for terrorism” and “its use of proxies to destabilize parts of the Middle East.” With Iran re-connected to SWIFT, it will be poised to more easily move funds to terrorists’ coffers, foment conflict around the region, and possibly even procure equipment for a clandestine weapons program, should it choose to violate the nuclear deal.

“De-SWIFTing” Iran did not happen without controversy. But under congressional pressure, Obama administration and EU officials eventually agreed to take the step in mid-2012. Around the same time, the White House began its back channel nuclear negotiations with Iran. This was no coincidence: Cut off from the formal financial sector, Iran was desperate for a way back in. The Obama administration saw this as an opportunity. Secret talks led to public negotiations in October 2013 and the announcement of an interim agreement one month later.

So long as the Iranians continued to engage in dialogue, the P5+1 world powers agreed to provide sanctions relief. Direct sanctions relief under the Joint Plan of Action, the interim deal signed in November 2013, yielded the Iranian regime a total of $11.9 billion from frozen oil revenues, allowing the country to replenish its dwindling foreign exchange reserves. This contributed to a modest economic recovery in 2014 and 2015, but the pressure from sanctions remained, and Iran’s economy remained stymied.

“Without SWIFT, there was nowhere to spend [the sanctions relief],” one U.S. government official told us in April. “The Iranians have been complaining to us throughout the JPOA process that sanctions relief means little without the ability to bank.”

It is no coincidence, then, that the deal explicitly calls for the banks that were originally banned from SWIFT to be allowed back into the system. SWIFT issued a release on Tuesday afternoon in response to the announcement, stating that it “is aware of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and the potential sanctions relief this may entail.”

For the time being, however, the financial messaging service noted that “all the current EU sanctions remain in place…. Any decision to lift sanctions on countries or individual entities rests solely with the competent government bodies and applicable legislators.”

In plain English, SWIFT is putting the onus on the EU to assume the burden of the decision of whether Iran will be reintegrated into its system. So, upon “Implementation Day” — when the International Atomic Energy Agency verifies that Iran has fulfilled the implementation of specified nuclear measures — the EU will be obliged to order SWIFT to readmit Iran’s banks.

While Iran’s readmission to SWIFT is underway, Iranian banks will also get a boost from a provision in the agreement that calls for the United States to delist the Central Bank of Iran. This is no small matter. In 2011, invoking Section 311 of the Patriot Act, the U.S. Treasury took the extraordinary step of designating the entire “Islamic Republic of Iran [as] a jurisdiction of primary money laundering concern.” The Treasury cited Iran’s “support for terrorism,” “pursuit of weapons of mass destruction,” and “deceptive financial practices” as reasons for the action. It specifically targeted Iran’s Central Bank and made it clear that the entire country’s financial system posed “illicit finance risks for the global financial system”…

…To make matters worse, the agreement just reached in Vienna grants more than $100 billion in cash to Iran, which could flow to the coffers of terrorist groups and rogue actors like Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Houthis, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Damascus. At the president’s press conference on Wednesday, Obama dismissed this fear, claiming the money would not be a “game-changer” for Iran. It’s hard to understand his logic: This infusion of cash will relieve budgetary constraints for a country already spending at least $6 billion annually to support Assad. For a country with only $20 billion in fully accessible foreign exchange reserves prior to November 2013, this is hugely significant.More importantly, the relaxed banking standards will grant the Iranian regime the ability to move its money anywhere in the world. With EU sanctions also set to be lifted on Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, major IRGC companies and banks, and the Quds Force, the IRGC’s extraterritorial terrorist arm, Europe will become an economic free zone for Iran’s terrorist activity…

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How Baathists cashed in before checking out

July 19, 2015

Further clues have emerged that that the looting of museums following the 2003 invasion of Iraq wasn’t really the result of lax security or random looters from the street.  It was probably a systematic inside job by an organized syndicate of corrupt Baathist officials before they went underground.  The antiquities they stole were either sold to help fund the insurgency or were kept by former officials who later joined AQI which became ISIS.

At least the Washington Post reported on the discovery (h/t MFS001), although it buried the most important connection in paragraph 15 of a 17 paragraph article (in bold below, emphasis mine):

Artifacts looted during the Iraq invasion turned up in the house of an Islamic State leader

BAGHDAD — The United States handed over more than 400 ancient artifacts to Iraq on Wednesday, part of ongoing efforts to repatriate the country’s looted heritage. But this latest batch has a particularly intriguing back story — the antiquities were seized by U.S. Special Operations forces members as they raided the house of a leader of the Islamic State militant group.

The nighttime operation to capture the militant took place in eastern Syria in May, and the Delta Force troops did not come back with their prize. It was their first such ground mission in the country, and their main target, a man known as Abu Sayyaf who ran oil operations for the Islamic State in the area, was killed in an ensuing firefight.

But as the commandos scoured the compound for documents and laptops that could provide intelligence about the organization, they stumbled across artifacts thought to be dating back as far as 4,000 years.

Among them was a religious text written in Aramaic, the ancient Semitic language said to have been spoken by Jesus. An official at the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad said Wednesday that it was about 500 years old but has not yet been properly dated. (Museum officials also said that, as with many of the items found, they could not be sure whether the text was of Syrian or Iraqi origin.)

There were hundreds of coins — some of them gold from the Abbassid era, others silver pieces from the Umayyad period. There were stone cylindrical seals from the ancient city of Nimrud and fragments of pottery.

The presence of the artifacts in Abu Sayyaf’s house is perhaps not surprising. The Islamic State’s “Diwan al-Rikaz” — a ministry overseeing precious resources — has departments in charge of both oil and gas and antiquities. Abu Sayyaf may well have had a role in the sale of these resources…

…Among the items found in the house were three Babylonian stone seals, which officials said were stolen in 2003 from the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad during the chaos that followed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Their museum numbering is still visible…

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More benefit fraud for jihad

July 17, 2015

British leaders are finally starting to realize that benefit fraud by Islamists isn’t just about private greed.  The stolen benefits are actually being used by men and women to join the battle in Syria and Iraq against perceived infidels.  The Muslim British youngsters have taken the teachings of Anjem Choudary and others to heart, learning that it is acceptable to steal money from infidel countries through their generous welfare programs so long as that money is used in furtherance of jihad.

From the Daily Mail (h/t El Grillo):

ISIS jihadis in Syria and Iraq are funding their evil war by milking Britain’s benefits system through false claims, online fraud and student loans

  • Experts fear that jihadis have committed frauds to abuse welfare system 
  • DWP has launched a probe to establish the extent of the fraud 
  • Hundreds of Brits are believed to have joined ISIS in Iraq and Syria
  • First time the Whitehall department has admitted the fraudulent claims

ISIS terrorists are abusing the UK benefits system to fund their holy war in Iraq and Syria, authorities fear.

Hundreds of Brits are believed to have travelled abroad to fight with ISIS and many of them are still believed to be claiming taxpayer-funded benefits.

Experts believe jihadists have committed a number of high-level frauds to deliberately abuse the welfare system.

While a number of countries do have benefits agreements with the UK that allow British citizens to continue claiming state hand-outs, Iraq and Syria are not among them.

But the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) Fraud and Error Service has launched a series of reviews after people living in Iraq and Syria successfully pocketed UK benefits…

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Of money and fundamentalism: news links

July 16, 2015
  • Man sentenced to 7 years for paying $2,450 toward a suicide bomb that wounded 300… more from Jihad Watch>>
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Afghan jihadists seek funds to help ISIS

July 14, 2015

Militants are using Afghanistan to raise money for the Islamic State terror group.  This assertion is coming from Afghan officials.  The officials could benefit from international security aid, so they may be a little biased.  But it’s hard to ignore them as ISIS has expanded its appeal around the globe.  It stands to reason that Central Asia jihadists might be looking for a champion with a more recent string of successes than the Taliban.  From Khaama Press on June 13 (h/t @skinroller):

ISIS affiliates in Afghanistan seeking financial help to rise: Ulomi

The Minister of Interior Noor-ul-Haq Ulomi said Saturday that the militants who have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorist group, are seeking financial support to maintain their operations in the country.

Presenting the ministry’s 100-Day plans and strategies, Ulomi said the ISIS affiliates include Uzbeks, Tajiks, Kyrgyz nationals, Chechens, Turks and Uyghurs.

He said the ISIS affiliates are looking to create sanctuaries in Afghanistan considering the geographic interests of the country and by taking advantage of the ongoing violence.

Insisting on regional cooperation to curb the activities of the terror group, Ulomi warned it would be difficult to stop the terror group from spreading its activities if it gained a foothold in Afghanistan.

The remarks by Ulomi comes as the former Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorist group in Afghanistan would threaten neighboring Russia and China if the group gained a strong foothold in the country.

Karzai insisted that the rise of the terror group in Afghanistan would not be possible without the foreign backing. “So, if you hear ever in the coming days, or months, or years that Daesh is on the rise in Afghanistan, and is strong and expanding militarily, it will mean that it is a foreign-backed force intending to destabilize the region, particularly Central Asia, China and Russia,” he added.

On the other hand, the Afghan national security advisor Hanif Atmar said the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorist group is looking to have access to drugs market by starting operations in Afghanistan…

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Loans by text pay jihadists’ way to Syria

July 13, 2015

Swedish Islamists are taking out loans through text message services to join the battle in Syria.  They use the borrowed funds to buy plane tickets, cars and, presumably, other equipment when they arrive.  Sweden’s security agency says that a majority of fighters’ travels are debt-financed.  Thus the lenders are violating the first rule of lending:  character.  What kind of screening are these small lenders performing on their borrowers?  So much for knowing your customer.

From The Local on June 22 (h/t Moscow Ghost):

SMS loans fund Syria terror trips from Sweden

Sweden’s Security Service (Säpo) has warned that growing numbers of muslims are funding trips to Syria with money secured via text message loans secured in Sweden.

Investigators working for the security service told Sveriges Radio that there had been a rise in people taking trips to the Middle East to fight alongside terror organisations such as Isis (also known as IS) over the last year, with growing numbers of visits funded by loans taken out in Sweden.

Martin Frimansson, an expert on terrorist funding at Säpo, explained that while some Swedes had borrowed money from banks or using Swedish credit cards, others had paid for their travel using SMS loans (money borrowed via text message from private companies) or made their way to Syria and Iraq using cars rented in Sweden.

According to Frimansson, a “clear majority” of trips were made possible due to loans, although he did not give any specific figures.

He suggested that some Swedes were also taking out loans in order to raise their status within Isis or other terror groups.

“It could be that if you have a car and money…you automatically become a team leader. If you have no money when you arrive, no car or anything – then maybe you’ll be the ambulance driver,” he said.

By law, credit companies and banks are required to adhere to a range of measures designed to prevent the financing of terror activities, but according to Säpo the trend for Swedes borrowing money for suspect trips to the Middle East suggests that much more needs to be done.

The security service is calling on lenders to file reports on people who are failing to repay their loans more quickly and to be stricter about who they lend money to in the first place.

“They are the first hurdle to stopping terrorist financing. It is a big responsibility,” said Frimansson.

In April, Säpo told The Local there was “very little” it could do to stop people travelling to Syria to join al-Qaeda inspired groups, as EU officials estimated up to 6,000 people from across Europe have now fought in the war-torn nation.

It confirmed that at least 150 Swedish residents were known to have been to Syria or Iraq to fight for Isis or other extremist groups, with intelligence suggesting that at least 35 had died in the process.

Earlier this year, Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad also told Sweden’s tabloid newspaper Expressen that he believed some of “the most dangerous leaders of Daesh and Isis in our region are Scandinavian”…

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