News / Middle East

    Islamist Insurgency Fueled by Global Finance Web

    FILE - Former Kuwaiti Minister of Justice, Islamic endowments and Islamic Affairs Nayef al-Ajmi speaks at a session of Kuwait's National Assembly. Ajmi resigned in the wake of accusations by a senior U.S. official that he was enabling terrorism.
    FILE - Former Kuwaiti Minister of Justice, Islamic endowments and Islamic Affairs Nayef al-Ajmi speaks at a session of Kuwait's National Assembly. Ajmi resigned in the wake of accusations by a senior U.S. official that he was enabling terrorism.

    The little cans were at cash registers everywhere in Kuwait, where I lived during much of the 1990s. Covered with pictures of children in anguish amid burning rubble, these cans collected coins and cash for “Palestinian Relief” or the like. Sometimes, I put my change into these cans, causing the person behind the counter to often give me a puzzled look. Then, I learned from my Kuwaiti friends that these collection cans were not always helping those kids – many were funding Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and other violent groups.

    Now, 20 years later, there is an international web of finance that leads to deadly insurgents such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Part of it runs through so-called “charities,” while another funding stream for terrorists is enabled by official complicity. And, these sources also intersect.

    Colin Clarke, author of an upcoming book titled “Terrorism Inc: The Funding of Terrorism, Insurgency, and Irregular Warfare” says much of the cash now pouring into ISIL and other violent groups comes from three regional sources.

    “A key component of support to Sunni extremist groups [including ISIL] comes from wealthy individuals in the Arab Gulf states of Kuwait, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia,” Clarke told VOA, adding “The majority of donors likely know exactly where their money is going. Some are blatant about it, while others enjoy the plausible deniability of ambiguity.”

    Clarke also contends these three states are using this funding stream as a means of achieving influence with insurgent groups. “The Saudis,” he said, “are reportedly fearful of the threat posed by ISIL, but certainly contribute to radical groups, battling for a leadership role with Qatar, another country active in this funding.”

    Kuwait has also allegedly kept the flames of insurgency fueled with cash. Until recently, one of those streams reportedly ran through Kuwait’s Aqaf, its Ministry of Islamic Affairs. In May, Aqaf Minister Nayef al-Ajmi resigned in the wake of accusations by a senior U.S. official that he was enabling terrorists.

    U.S. Treasury Undersecretary David Cohen was quoted by Reuters as saying that Ajimi “had a history of promoting jihad in Syria,” noting that Ajimi’s face appeared on fundraising posters for a Syrian al-Qaida-linked insurgent group, the Nusra Front.  Ajimi called Cohen’s assertions “groundless and baseless,” a position also taken by Kuwait’s Cabinet.

    The situation with Kuwait’s Aqaf and other Islamic funding channels has lengthy historic roots.

    “Islamic charities have long been a source of funding for violent extremists,” according to RAND Corporation political scientist Patrick Johnston. “Charities were one of al-Qaida’s early sources of funding, and Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-law, Mohammad Jamal Khalifa, helped establish charities in the Philippines and elsewhere through which al-Qaida could raise and launder money.”

    The RAND analyst named several such money conduits that have been put under U.S. sanctions: the Benevolence International Foundation, based in Saudi Arabia, along with the International Islamic Relief Organization. Both have been accused by U.S. and other authorities of funding al-Qaida. Another Saudi-based charity hit by U.S. sanctions for its al-Qaida connections is the al-Haramain Islamic Foundation.

    But Johnston does not make a blanket indictment of Islamic charities. “The key thing to note about charities,” he told VOA, “is that not all Islamic charities are sources of terrorist funding, and even among the ones that are, many donations that end up funding extremist activities are made unwittingly.”

    Perhaps the most sophisticated fundraising for terror is being employed by ISIL. Along with donations from Sunni jihad supporters, partly through charities, ISIL is also well known for running robust kidnapping and extortion operations in the territories in Syria and Iraq that it controls. ISIL also reportedly set up an “oil tap” in Iraq, selling siphoned petroleum from the output of the huge Baiji refinery north of Baghdad and elsewhere.

    But that pales in comparison to what this insurgent group did when it took over Mosul in early June.  It raided the Iraq Central Bank in that key northern city, along with other Mosul banks, for a haul that multiple reports peg at over $400 million. 

    The violence from Gaza through Iraq isn’t confined to Sunni extremists.  Shia groups such as Hezbollah also get substantial support from donors in the region, including Iran. Colin Clarke’s upcoming book says that another funding stream comes from Lebanese living on another continent.

    “The Lebanese diaspora living in Africa is known to contribute significant funding to Hezbollah’s agenda,” Clarke said, adding that this has been going on for some time.  The analyst cited a Beirut-bound jetliner that crashed in Benin in December 2003. Aboard were a Hezbollah official and two of his aides. They were “carrying approximately $2,000,000 in donations obtained from Lebanese nationals in West African countries including Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Benin, among others,” he said, noting that “an estimated 120,000 Lebanese émigrés live throughout the region.”

    Iran has openly supported - with military assistance, fighters, and cash - both Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.  Tehran is trying to reinforce both leaders against ISIL and other insurgents seeking to topple them.  For years, Iran has used charities called “bonyads” as concealed conduits to fund its IRGC “Revolutionary Guards,” insurgent operations and other activities. The heads of these bonyads are appointed by Iran’s Supreme Leader, currently Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, and these “charities” function, according to Clarke, as “independent economic entities and patronage networks unaccountable to the state.”

    In the face of so much money going to insurgents and terrorists, Johnston said it’s up to the global financial community to continue “finding new and improved means to audit banks worldwide, and ensuring their compliance with ‘know your customer’ and other anti-money laundering initiatives.”

    But as the financial community works to heighten transparency and accountability, the terrorists and insurgents respond to those changing conditions with new tactics - and continue to function.

    “While the United States has cracked down on terror financing through Islamic charities since 9/11 [The September 11, 2001 terror attacks on New York and Washington], charities linked to terrorist organizations have remained extremely resilient,” said Clarke, “displaying a penchant for adaptation that constrains the ability of the United States and the international community to make significant headway in this area, despite continued efforts.”


    Jeffrey Young

    Jeffrey Young came to the “Corruption” beat after years of doing news analysis, primarily on global strategic issues such as nuclear proliferation.  During most of 2013, he was on special assignment in Baghdad and elsewhere with the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR).  Previous VOA activities include VOA-TV, where he created the “How America Works” and “How America Elects” series, and the “Focus” news analysis unit.

    You May Like

    US Leaders Who Served in Vietnam War Look Back and Ahead

    In New York Times opinion piece, Secretary of State John Kerry, Senator John McCain and former Senator Bob Kerrey say as US strengthens relations with Vietnam, it is important to remember lessons learned from war

    Who Are US Allies in Fight Against Islamic State?

    There is little but opportunism keeping coalition together analysts warn — SDFs Arab militias are not united even among themselves, frequently squabble and don’t share Kurds' vision for post-Assad Syria

    Learning Foreign Language Helps US Soldiers Bridge Culture Gap

    Effective interaction with local populations part of everyday curriculum at Monterey, California, Defense Language Institute

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Thomas Nelson from: Oregon, USA
    July 07, 2014 4:14 PM
    Mr. Clarke is not well known in the "terrorism expert" field, and it may be that he's just another dime-a-dozen instant expert who is looking for clients to scare and shake down. For example, he speaks of "the Saudis" without indicating whether he means the Royal Family members or just rich folks - a critical distinction (the Royal Family is deathly afraid of AQ in Yemen and Iraq/Syria). Moreover, most if not all of the prior hysteria over Islamic charities was way overblown and produced profoundly negative consequences both for the recipients of charity (see Mohammed Salloomi's book, "Innocent Victims in the Global War on Terror"m available on Amazon) and ultimately for the West (guess where children in orphanages went when the U.S. shut down the orphanages -- hint: It wasn't the YMCA).
    A better understanding of the situation in the Middle East, including an understanding of Islam, would have made this article more helpful.

    by: Ali baba from: New vyork
    July 07, 2014 2:30 PM
    By investigation, the facts show that money is pouring to terrorist organization that slaughter people especially christen whom trapped in Syria and Iraq . Is these donors Saw the picture of people have been crucified.? Which person produce fatwa about sexual jihad which allow these jihadist to have sexual intercourse with the woman who is circulated a video about jihad in US. ?

    how many American citizens fight with jihadist in Syria And Iraq. The answer of all these questions reveal that The Arab communities in Europe And USA ,Canada are actively involved in Terrorist activities . The fact they have a party and laugh when They saw people crucified .woman encounter pain and anguish after she was raped. This is the real nature of the new Psychopath which USA And Europe ignored it and now become real threat
    In Response

    by: David Kent from: St. Augustine, FL
    July 13, 2014 3:38 AM
    I don't think you are real. Your fluctuating views and extremist opinions make me think you are some kind of a construct.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora