Combating Terrorist Financing:
Combating terrorist financing is one of the most critical fronts in both the war on terror and the implementation of the roadmap to peace. In both cases, cutting off the flow of funds to terrorists hinges on focusing on logistical and financial support networks. Too often security, intelligence, and law enforcement services – and certainly politicians and diplomats – make distinctions between terrorist «operatives» and terrorist «supporters.» Yet financial and logistical support networks are central to the conduct of international terrorism. Those who fund or facilitate acts of terror are equally as guilty of committing acts of terror as those who pull the triggers, detonate the bombs, or crash the airplanes. The main effort in combating terror financing must be to shut down the key nodes through which terrorists raise, launder, and transfer funds. Since there is significant overlap between terrorist groups in the area of financing, failure to deal with the financing of groups like Hamas undermines efforts to stem the flow of funds to al-Qaeda.
Punditsand politicians alike tend to think of the war on terror against al-Qaeda andthe terrorist groups threatening the Arab-Israeli peace process as completelyseparate phenomena. This is, in part, a logical supposition, as neither Hamasnor Hizballah belong to the family of al-Qaeda-associated terrorist groups.Hizballah and Palestinian terrorist groups do not conduct joint operationalactivity with al-Qaeda and, despite some ad hoc cooperation and personalrelationships, they have no official or institutional links. There have been afew cases of Hamas operatives who attended al-Qaeda training camps or had otherlinks to al-Qaeda personnel and were dispatched to conduct attacks in Israel.Far more significant, however, are the longstanding links between al-Qaeda andgroups like Hamas at the level of their international logistical and financialsupport networks.
Networksand relationships best describe the current state of international terrorism.This matrix of relationships among terrorists of various groups is what makesthe threat of international terrorism so dangerous today. For example, whilethere are no known organizational links between al-Qaeda and Hizballah, the twogroups have held senior level meetings over the past decade and there have beenad hoc, person-to-person ties in the areas of training and logistical support.
Too oftenpeople insist on pigeonholing terrorists as members of one group or another, asif such operatives carry membership cards in their wallets. In reality, much ofthe “network of networks” that characterizes today’s terrorist threat isinformal and unstructured. Not every al-Qaeda operative has pledged an oath ofallegiance to Osama bin Laden, while many terrorists maintain affiliations withmembers of other terrorist groups and facilitate one another’s activities. Thisapplies to Palestinian terrorist groups as well. In the area of terroristfinancing and logistical support there is significant overlap between terroristgroups.
Both Logistical and Financial Supporters of Terrorism are Terrorists
September11 taught several painful lessons, not the least of which is that those whoconduct such support activities are terrorists of the same caliber as those whocarry out attacks. Indeed, the key ingredient that enabled September 11 tohappen was the fact that so many individuals and organizations were able toprovide the kind of financial and logistical support for an operation of thatmagnitude. This is able to occur when security, intelligence, and lawenforcement services – and certainly politicians and diplomats – makedistinctions between terrorist “operatives” and terrorist “supporters.” Severalof the September 11 plotters had been defined prior to September 11 as merelyterrorist “supporters,” not “operatives.” Thus it is critical that intelligenceagencies focus on the logistical and financial supporters of terrorism, notonly because they facilitate acts of terror, but because distinguishing between“supporters” and “operatives” assures that the plotters of the next terroristattack – today’s “supporters” – will only be identified after they conducttheir terrorist attack – and are thus transformed into “operatives.” Those whofund or facilitate acts of terrorism are no less terrorists than those whocarry out the operation by pulling the trigger, detonating the bomb, orcrashing the airplane. September 11 should have taught us how financial andlogistical support networks are central to the conduct of internationalterrorism. Any serious effort to crack down on terrorist financing, so criticalto disrupt terrorist activity, demands paying special attention to thesesupport networks.
A closeexamination of these networks reveals that there are key nodes in this matrixthat have become the preferred conduits used by terrorists from multipleterrorist groups to fund and facilitate attacks. Shutting down theseorganizations, front companies, and charities will go a long way towardstemming the flow of funds to and among terrorist groups.
Shut Down the Key Nodes of Funding
Manycritics of the economic war on terrorism suggest that because the amount ofmoney that has been frozen internationally is in the low millions, very littlehas actually been accomplished. I suggest that the dollar amount frozen is notthe issue; the issue is shutting down the key nodes through which terroristsraise, launder, and transfer funds.
Counterterrorismis not about defeating terrorism; it is about constricting the operatingenvironment – making it harder for them to do what they want to do at everylevel: conducting operations, procuring and transferring false documents,ferrying fugitives from one place to another; financing, raising, andlaundering funds. It is about making it more difficult for terrorists toconduct their operational, logistical, and financial activities.
Toconstrict the terrorists’ operating environment and crack down on terrorist financing,let us consider a few examples of key nodes in the network of terroristlogistical support groups. Many of these organizations are not particular toone terrorist group:
Bank al Taqwa: One of the first financial institutions shut down by the United States after September 11 was a family of financial institutions known as Bank al Taqwa. Announcing the seizure of al Taqwa’s funds, President Bush noted that al Taqwa and its various affiliates in the United States and abroad were not only being used to raise funds for al-Qaeda, but as a key means for transferring and laundering those funds and even for transferring military and other equipment to al-Qaeda operatives internationally.
Bank al Taqwa provided similar services to many other terrorist groups.In 1997 Hamas used Bank al Taqwa to transfer as much as $60 million that itraised internationally to the West Bank and Gaza. The Italians subsequentlycame forward with information that Bank al Taqwa was servicing several NorthAfrican groups that now play a more central role in al-Qaeda.
IIRO: One of the chief Saudi Arabian charities definitively linked to financing a variety of international terrorist groups is the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO). The IIRO has funded al-Qaeda directly, as well as several of its satellite groups from Kashmir to the Philippines. Bin Laden’s brother-in-law, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, headed the organization’s office in the Philippines, and the organization’s office in northern Virginia shared office space with about 50 other financial shell organizations that are now the subject of a massive counterterrorism investigation. Israeli forces found a large collection of documents in the West Bank with the IIRO logo including several lists of aid recipients with the names of families of suicide bombers highlighted. The IIRO has sent at least $280,000 to Hamas-affiliated organizations in the West Bank.
Saudis authorities like to talk about bad apples that have fallen offgood trees and, in fact, that is sometimes the case. For many months the Saudismaintained this argument regarding the al Haramain Islamic Foundation. Eachtime the United States approach the Saudis about another branch of al Haramainthat had been definitively linked to financing not only terrorism in generalbut specific terror operations the Saudis would write the office off as anotherbad apple off an otherwise good tree. But sometimes the tree itself is bad, andevery so often the forest is rotten.
The Madrid Cell: Perhaps the most significant al-Qaeda cell to be broken up since 9/11 is not the Hamburg cell but the one in Madrid, Spain. A member of the Madrid cell provided pre-operational surveillance of the Twin Towers, several bridges in New York and California, and other sites during a supposed tourist visit to the U.S. in the late 1990s. The Madrid cell also provided much of the financing for key members of the Hamburg cell directly, even as it funded other cells and other groups. For example, the leader of the Madrid cell sent money to a charity committee in Hebron that American and Israeli officials both linked to Hamas, and provided money to an imam in Madrid with known ties to Hamas. Al Aqsa International Foundation: After significant pressure and lobbying by both Israeli and American authorities, several individual European countries (but not the European Union) have joined the United States in banning the al Aqsa International Foundation, a Hamas front organization which is also suspected of sending money to Hizballah. The head of the foundation’s office in Yemen was arrested in Germany – not for fundraising on behalf of Hamas but for sending weapons and millions of dollars to al-Qaeda operatives well after September 11.
Indeed, acareful look at the relationships between terrorists from various groupsreveals that most of the overlap between groups occurs at key nodes within amatrix of financial and logistical support networks.
Recentlydisclosed Italian telephone wiretaps reveal that al-Qaeda associates in Italyand elsewhere in Europe were radicalizing and recruiting local Muslim youth toengage in terrorist training at the Ansar al-Islam training camp in the Kurdishareas of northern Iraq near the Iranian border. Recruits were sent via Syria,where the European operatives’ al-Qaeda commanders were located – likely withthe knowledge of the Syrian government.
In oneconversation, a senior individual in Syria offers his lieutenant in Italy aseries of instructions on how to evade the counterterrorism measures put inplace since 9-11. He gave very specific advice on how long to stay on thephone, what type of phone to use, not to use the Internet, where to holdmeetings, and where not to hold meetings. The commander in Syria added thatthey need not worry about money “because Saudi Arabia’s money is your money.”
Theseexamples show that terrorist support networks are very often intertwined.Operationally, failure to crack down on the financing of Hamas or PalestinianIslamic Jihad and Hizballah will only undermine the larger war on terror.
The Majority of Hamas Funding Comes from Saudi Arabia
The factthat Hamas is the only organization providing Palestinians with critical socialservices does not excuse the group’s terrorist activity. Hamas uses the sameinstitutions to finance suicide bombings and help the needy. In the schools itfunds, the classrooms are decorated with posters of suicide bombers and slogansinciting the children to violence.
It costsa tremendous amount of money to maintain the Hamas dawa, the socialwelfare infrastructure which Hamas utilizes to facilitate terror attacks, aswell as to build grassroots support among the Palestinian population.Frequently, Hamas dawa operatives are the ones who ferry the suicidebomber and the explosives to the point of departure for the mission. NumerousHamas members with terrorist track records are officials of Hamas charitycommittees.
Recentassessments indicate that the majority of Hamas funding currently comes fromsources within Saudi Arabia. Sources like the International Islamic ReliefOrganization are just one step removed from the Saudi government assubsidiaries of the Muslim World League – a pseudo-governmental agency. Hamasalso gets money from Iran and elsewhere in the Muslim world, as well as fromNorth America and Europe.
IslamicJihad is practically a wholly-owned subsidiary of Iran, serving Iranian foreignpolicy. Iran used to fund Islamic Jihad through its budget for Hizballah, whichis said to receive at least $100 million a year. However, about a year into thelatest intifada, Iran separated Islamic Jihad’s budget from Hizballah, andincreased it by 75 percent.
Neitheral-Qaeda, Hamas, nor Islamic Jihad currently lack for money, and this situationwill continue until we do something about it. In the context of both the war onterror and the roadmap to peace, failure to effectively combat the financing ofterrorist groups will translate into nothing less than our failure to combatterror and secure peace in the Middle East.
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MatthewLevitt is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.This Jerusalem Issue Brief is based on his presentation at the Institutefor Contemporary Affairs in Jerusalem on July 17, 2003.
DoreGold, Publisher; Lenny Ben-David, ICA Program Director; Mark Ami-El, ManagingEditor. Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (Registered Amuta), 13 Tel-Hai St.,Jerusalem, Israel; Tel. 972-2-5619281, Fax. 972-2-5619112, Email:email@example.com. In U.S.A.: Center for Jewish Community Studies, 1616Walnut St., Suite 1005, Philadelphia, PA 19103-5313; Tel. (215) 772-0564, Fax.(215) 772-0566. Website: www.jcpa.org. ©Copyright. The opinions expressedherein do not necessarily reflect those of the Board of Fellows of theJerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
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