Posts Tagged ‘ransom’

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Mexican extortion scheme spreads to Texas

August 14, 2014

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

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

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

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

‘Virtual kidnapping’ scam targets El Paso doctors

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

By Daniel Borunda / El Paso Times

Posted:   08/02/2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Paks blame Afghans for extortion in Peshawar

June 20, 2014

What unbelievable gall Pakistani intelligence is demonstrating by blaming “Afghan nationals” for ongoing extortion, kidnap-for-ransom, and murder-for-hire schemes in Peshawar.

It was Pakistani intelligence that created and funded the Taliban and other jihadist groups in the first place to give Pakistan “strategic depth” in their ruthless desire to gain any conceivable edge over India. It was Pakistan that funded radical curriculum and instruction at madrassas and Afghan orphanages.

Now that their efforts have begun turning their own cities into charnel houses, they’re distancing themselves from their own creation.

Pakistan didn’t seem to mind harboring Osama Bin Laden, because he didn’t attack Pakistan while he lived there. But Pakistan does mind when his buddies start making mischief on their own streets.

Message to Pakistan: you made your own bed, now lie in it.

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Lessons learned from 6 big terrorist windfalls

April 29, 2014

Terror finance trials over the last ten years have frequently involved transfers by individuals of a few thousand dollars to terrorist organizations abroad. Sometimes those cases get as much attention from the news media and law enforcement as multi-million dollar cases of funding terrorism.

This tendency is unfortunate because it causes us to lose sight of the big time patrons of terrorism and their methods. Small transfers are likelier to involve individual actors, small groups, and criminal activity. High-dollar terrorist transactions are likelier to involve state sponsorship, or at least large organizations such as major charities, and sometimes corporations which are targeted for extortion or kidnapping-for-ransom schemes by militants. Consider:

• France paid $15 to $20 million to the Taliban for the 2011 release of reporters Stéphane Taponier and Hervé Ghesquière. France may have also paid a $34 million ransom to Al Qaeda in North Africa for the release of four captives last year, and an $18 million ransom just last week to release four journalists abducted by Syrian rebels.

• The Holy Land Foundation, largest Islamic “charity” in the U.S. in the early 2000s, gave $12.4 million to Hamas. George W. Bush said that the money HLF raised was “used by Hamas to recruit suicide bombers and support their families.” The leaders of HLF were found guilty of providing material support to terrorism and received sentences ranging from 15 to 65 years in federal prison.

• Qatar has spent an estimated $3 billion (or, less credibly, $5 billion) to fund Al Qaeda-linked rebels in Syria. In so doing they’ve helped turn Syria into a charnel house with over 150,000 dead since 2011.

• Carlos the Jackal received, according to different accounts, either $20 million or $50 million from the Saudi government in 1975 to release the OPEC ministers he had taken hostage. Allegedly, this money wasn’t used by Carlos himself but was pumped back toward international terrorist causes. Eventually, Carlos the Jackal was caught and sentenced to life in prison in France on separate charges.

• The Born brother heirs to the multinational Bunge and Born corporation were forced to pay a $60 million ransom to leftwing Montoneros terrorists in Argentina in 1974. Some of the money may have been kept in shadowy Argentine and Cuban banks. Mario Firmenich, mastermind of the plot, was convicted in 1987.

• The Palestinian Authority just pledged another $74 million to spend as incentives and stipends for terrorist “martyrs” and their families from their annual budget.

Several lessons should be learned from the above sampling of terrorist jackpots:

1. Don’t pay ransoms. Paying ransoms is the quickest way to fund millions of dollars worth of future terrorist attacks and to increase the likelihood of larger ransom demands down the road.

2. In cases of suspected terrorist financing, always look at both the source and the beneficiary of the funding—not just one party in isolation. With the Holy Land Foundation, we tend to focus mostly on HLF as a contributor, without examining how Hamas uses Islamic charities in the West to finance its operations. Likewise in the Taponier and Ghesquière case, what little coverage there was in English language media focused on the ransom negotiations and French foreign policy, while completely ignoring the aftermath of what the Taliban and the Baryal Qari group did with the money. We learn more from each case when we look at both sides of the equation. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Arab gangs to captives: pay up or lose organs

March 17, 2014

This is a follow up to earlier Money Jihad coverage of the organ trade that enriches Bedouins and Hamas.  If anything, the ransom demands appear to be increasing as captives’ relatives in Europe pay off the abductors.

Sweden is specifically named as one of the countries where ransom demands to relatives have been successful.  Perhaps Swedish authorities should look apply more scrutiny to financial transfers made to that region of the world, to ensure that migrants in their own country aren’t inflating ransom demands and keeping the illicit organ market in business.

From IB Times (h/t to @PaulWilko657):

Europol: Arab Gangs Threatening to Kill and Sell Organs of Africa Migrants

  • By Lewis Dean March 5, 2014

Arab gangs are threatening to kill and sell the organs of African migrants if relatives refuse to pay ransoms in time.

European crime agency Europol has said the migrants are being kidnapped by criminals who then demand family and friends living in Europe pay thousands of euros for their release.

The agency has warned EU law enforcement authorities about the kidnapping of ‘irregular migrants’ and the subsequent extortion of their relatives or friends who are residing in Europe.

Ransoms extorted have ranged from €4,400 to €25,700 and have involved multiple negotiation steps where the amount demanded by kidnappers has increased incrementally.

Payments were made to multiple cash handlers used by organised criminal groups in locations inside and outside of Europe.

The agency said individuals orginally from Eritrea in the Horn of Africa, but who now live in Sweden, and at least two other European countries have been subject to extortion as relatives are held hostage and tortured in the Sinai Peninsula, in Eygpt.

The extortion operations were run by organised criminals of Bedouin origin, who exploit irregular migrants who had been kidnapped in Eritrea and Sudan.

In some cases, hostages have been provided with phones to call European contacts and request cash for their release.

In one instance, a victim’s friend living in Sweden was contacted by two Swedish-speaking suspects on local mobile phone numbers demanding €24,000 for a victim being held in the Sinai.

Threatening that non-compliance would result in the victim’s death and sale of their organs, the suspects attempted to arrange face-to-face meetings in Sweden for the handover of ransom payments…

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Top terror finance stories of 2013

December 30, 2013

From massacres on the streets of Syria to the streets of Boston, 2013 has offered far too many illustrations of how terror-borne bloodshed is financed:

  1. Sunni and Western powers risk funding Syrian rebels despite their Al Qaeda allegiance
    Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, the U.S., U.K., and France have provided money and supplies to the enemies of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad despite the risk of the materiel falling into the wrong hands.  Gulf-based support has gone directly toward Salafist fighters; Western aid has been targeted toward the supposedly moderate Free Syrian Army, but entire brigades of the FSA have pledged allegiance to al-Nusra Front—Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria—during 2013.  Reports this month of a “suspension” of U.S. aid have been somewhat exaggerated; as one official conceded, “the suspension of aid only applies to the opposition in northern Syria, adding that supply lines from Jordan in the south would continue.”  Foreign support has prolonged the conflict in Syria and increased the chances for Al Qaeda to take over the country.
  2. Boston marathon bombing made possible by Saudi money
    North Caucuses militants have been funded for decades by Saudi Arabia.  The Saudis and their wealthy expatriate terrorists like Ibn al-Khattab  and Osama Bin Laden and invested millions of dollars into the training and recruitment of fighters, the construction of radical mosques, and the creation of jihadist websites in Slavic languages.  Tamerlan Tsarnaev read and engaged with these websites and pursued support from these Saudi-sponsored sources when he traveled to Russia in 2012.  Tsarnaev and his brother Dzhokhar also learned from Inspire magazine by deceased terror imam Anwar al-Awlaki, who presided over Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.In effect, Saudi money created the breeding environment both online and on the ground in the North Caucuses in which the Tsarnaevs’ plot was hatched.

    Sadly, the media and public officials have been slow to recognize and expose the connections between the Saudis, the North Caucasus militants, and their followers living in North America.  Two Democrat-appointed federal judges inexplicably reversed the conviction this year of Pete Seda, a Muslim “peace activist” who sent money through a Saudi-based charity from Oregon to Chechen terrorists in the early 2000s.

  3. The U.S. became the world’s #1 energy producer in 2013.  This development reduces our dependence on Arab oil and the flow of petrodollars that fund terrorism.
  4. The compensation of victims of Iranian-sponsored terrorism was ignored during negotiations in Geneva on Iran’s nuclear program.
  5. The Somali Islamic terrorist group al-Shabaab’s finances rebounded in 2013 despite their loss of control in 2012 of the key harbor in Kismayo to Kenyan, African Union, and allied forces.  The main ingredients in their financial resurgence included an expansion al-Shabaab’s lucrative charcoal smuggling operation, the resumption of payments from the Dahabshiil money service to al-Shabaab, and indirect support from the Gulf.  The funding has allowed operations such as killing sprees in Mogadishu and the September terrorist attack on Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenya.  Nevertheless, a British court injunction has forced Barclays to continue partnering with Dahabshiil to facilitate remittances to Somalia.
  6. Read the rest of this entry ?
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OPEC hostage shared goals of captors

December 20, 2013

Thirty-eight years ago today, Carlos the Jackal and his band of terrorists forced their way into a meeting of OPEC in Vienna, Austria.  The terrorists eventually received millions of dollars from OPEC’s member nations to secure the release of the hostages after a trans-Mediterranean flight to Algeria.

OPEC leader Sheikh Yamani was spared for two reasons:  1) he paid off Carlos the Jackal, and 2) he also believed in armed Palestinian resistance against Israel.  Carlos’s fellow terrorists never understood why Yamani was a target.

From the documentary “Terror’s Advocate”:

After all, Yamani had orchestrated the Arab oil embargo that damaged the West economically, and Yamani would later fund Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, according to the Golden Chain document.  So Yamani was really on the same ideological side as Carlos and Arab terrorist groups from the outset.

The other thing is that radical Muslims have always wanted to control the oil in Saudi Arabia.  Although the Saudi royals are Siamese twins with the radical Wahhabi clerics, and impose strict sharia law against their subjects, the government of Saudi Arabia is seen by Islamists as too friendly to the West from a foreign policy standpoint.  Perhaps Carlos regarded Yamani as a representative of the “establishment,”—or perhaps they had worked out a side deal all along.

Today’s jihadists want control of Arabian petroleum to induce oil shocks against the West like Sheikh Yamani himself had done just a couple years before the OPEC hostage-taking.

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Brits push UN to ban ransom payments (again)

December 17, 2013

This time we really mean it!

Not sure what this proposed resolution will accomplish since paying ransoms to terrorists already violates U.N. Resolution 1904.  Maybe the proposal would actually give teeth to 1904, but the text of the proposed resolution does not appear to be available online from either the British foreign office or the U.N.

But at least they’re drawing attention to the phenomenon which enriches terrorist groups and puts upward pressure on the size of ransoms demanded globally.  From the Associated Press on Dec. 4:

UN urged to end paying ransom to terrorists

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Britain is urging the U.N. Security Council to adopt a resolution calling on all countries not to pay ransom to kidnappers who use the money to finance terrorist groups.

Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said Wednesday his government estimates that over the last three years more than $70 million has been provided to al-Qaida and other terrorist groups from ransom paid to kidnappers.

Lyall Grant said he circulated a draft resolution to council members Tuesday calling on the 193 U.N. member states “to prevent terrorists from benefiting directly or indirectly from ransom payments.”

A U.N. resolution adopted weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States already bans all countries from financing terrorism.

But Lyall Grant said the proposed new resolution highlights “the increasing threat” from kidnapping for ransom to benefit terrorists.

“We want to make it much more difficult for terrorists to benefit from this sort of financing,” he said.

Lyall Grant said he hopes the Security Council will approve the resolution this month, with support from all 15 members…

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Cleric approved kidnap-for-ransom scheme

November 28, 2013

Dawn reports that five members of the Pakistani Taliban were approved to engage in widespread abductions of religious minorities to help fund their operations.  “An unidentified cleric” granted the approval, probably at least partially based on the Qur’an, Sura 47, Verse 4, which allows for the release or ransom of non-Muslim captives depending on the needs of the Muslim community at the time.

Robert Spencer has the details:

Pakistan: Islamic jihad group planned kidnap of Shias and Ahmadis for ransom

This is an Islamically approved method of fundraising, much preferable to crowdfunding at Indiegogo. Kidnapping infidels and releasing them for ransom or killing them, as well as enslaving them if that option is deemed most advantageous for the Muslims, is fully sanctioned in Islamic law: “As for the captives, the amir [ruler] has the choice of taking the most beneficial action of four possibilities: the first to put them to death by cutting their necks; the second, to enslave them and apply the laws of slavery regarding their sale and manumission; the third, to ransom them in exchange for goods or prisoners; and fourth, to show favor to them and pardon them. Allah, may he be exalted, says, ‘When you encounter those [infidels] who deny [the Truth=Islam] then strike [their] necks’ (Qur’an sura 47, verse 4)” — Abu’l-Hasan al-Mawardi, al-Ahkam as-Sultaniyyah (The Laws of Islamic Governance), trans. by Dr. Asadullah Yate, (London), Ta-Ha Publishers Ltd., 1996, p. 192. “‘TTP planned kidnap of Shias, Ahmadis for ransom,’” by Mohammad Saleem from Dawn, November 13 (thanks to Lookmann):

FAISALABAD: The banned Pakistan Tehreek-i-Taliban’s local militants had allegedly been assigned the task of kidnapping members of Shia and Ahmadi communities for ransom for fundraising.

The plan, according to sources, was revealed by five militants during their interrogation by intelligence agencies.

The five alleged TTP terrorists — Usman Ghani alias Talha of Jameel Town, Ghulam Mohammadabad, Ali Azam alias Farooq of Razabad, Mubashar Nadeem alias Bao of Chak Jhumra, Usman of Lahore and Shahzad Ali of Gurunanakpura – had been produced before the media by the police at a press conference on Nov 5.

The sources said the plan to kidnap members of two communities was approved after an ‘edict’ in favour of such kidnappings for ransom issued by an unidentified cleric.

According to the sources, the militants told their investigators that they would raise funds for terrorist activities by looting houses of Shia community members and stealing PTCL cables.

They also confessed that they would send a part of their ill-gotten money to their group leader, Qari Imran, in Miramshah…

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Al Qaeda’s rainy day fund?

November 10, 2013

The Los Angeles Times recently published a good article on how Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has leveraged kidnap-for-ransom schemes into a $10 million annual enterprise.

But is AQAP spending all of that money as soon as it comes in?  Probably not.  One possibility is that AQAP is saving up their money for a wider-scale operation, such as the overthrow of the government of Yemen.  That was the guidance from Osama Bin Laden to AQAP in a letter he sent them before his death:  raise enough money to pull off something spectacular rather than wasting it on small operations while you’re still too weak financially to elude the Yemeni authorities.

Al Qaeda group is operating on ransom money from the West

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has extorted $20 million in two years, an official says. Western nations face the dilemma of paying up or seeing hostages die.

By Ken Dilanian

October 21, 2013

WASHINGTON — Dominik Neubauer stared into the camera, the steel barrel of an assault rifle pointed at his head.

A Yemeni “tribe” had taken him hostage, the 26-year-old Austrian student said in English, a tear rolling down his left cheek. If they aren’t paid a ransom, he continued, “they will kill me seven days after this video is published.”

In May, three months after the video appeared on YouTube, Neubauer was freed along with a Finnish couple who had also been kidnapped near an Arabic language school in Sana, Yemen’s capital. Multimillion-dollar ransoms were paid for their release, Yemeni and Western officials said.

The three were seized not by a tribe but by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the officials said — the group that has been trying for years to blow up U.S. airliners and overthrow the Western-backed government in Yemen. The ransoms went into the group’s coffers, according to the officials.

Over the last two years, AQAP, as Western officials refer to the group, has extorted $20 million in ransom money, according to an estimate by Alistair Burt, who until this month was the top British diplomatic official for the Middle East.

If those payments continue, “AQAP’s attack capability in Yemen and against its friends and neighbors will only strengthen,” he said at a recent diplomatic meeting in New York. Kidnapping has become the group’s single largest source of funds, U.S. and European officials say.

Much of the money comes with the complicity of Western governments that have rebuffed British and American exhortations not to pay ransoms, the officials allege. The governments of Finland and Austria said they did not provide ransom money to terrorists. But two Western officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to avoid publicly criticizing allied governments, said that those denials are for public consumption and that the size of the ransoms shows government involvement…

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France fuels Al Qaeda with €25m infusion

November 8, 2013

Talk about funding both sides of the conflict.

While France has led the way in the fight against jihadists in Mali, it also continues to pay ransoms to Al Qaeda and its offshoots to secure the release of Frenchmen abducted abroad.  The latest ransom—a 35 million USD transfer to Al Qaeda in North Africa—is a direct violation of the G8’s recent public pledge against making such payments.

See this and this for previous Money Jihad coverage of multi-million dollar French ransom payments to terrorists.

From International Business Times on Oct. 30:

France ‘Paid Al-Qaida €25m to Release Hostages in Niger’

France paid up to €25m ($34m, £21.5m) in ransom to al-Qaida to free four Frenchmen who had been held hostage for years in the African Sahel, according to sources close to the operation.

The sources dispute claims by French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian that no money was paid to secure the release of Pierre Legrand, 28, Daniel Larribe, 62, Thierry Dol, 32, and Marc Féret, 46.

Le Drian said the four, who had been kidnapped in 2010 in Niger, were released thanks to the brokerage of the country’s President Mahamadou Issoufou.

“There was no assault. There was an initiative taken by the networks of [President Issoufou] which permitted liberation without clashes,” Le Drian told France’s TF1.

However a source close to the Nigerian negotiating team told AFP a large sum was paid to the group responsible for the abduction, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

“Between 20 and 25 million euros was paid to obtain the release of the French hostages,” the source said. Similar claims were made by Le Monde…

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Eritrean tells of $30K ransom for captive cousin

October 27, 2013

The BBC has interviewed yet another Eritrean with a tragic story to tell about Islamist (or as the BBC calls them, “tribal”) kidnap-for-ransom schemes being conducted against hapless refugees trying to make across Sinai to a better world in Israel.

His cousin was burned, raped, and was only released after extended relatives were able to meet a ransom demand of $30,000—a big amount anywhere, but especially exorbitant for that part of the world.

The interview doesn’t get into it, but the ransom money from these kidnappings is often used to purchase weapons for Hamas.

Listen—it’s just a one-minute clip: