Thursday, October 10, 2002

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CHARITIES AND TERRORISTS: As an "expert on terrorist financing," I was on Chicago Tonight yesterday evening to talk about the indictment of the head of Benevolence International, one of the largest Muslim charities in the United States. [You're an expert?--ed. I spent the 2000-01 academic year working at the Treasury Department on coordinating international anti-money laundering activities, so by TV standards, yes, yes I am an expert.] The New York Times story is pretty good; here's the actual indictment. A few thoughts on the larger implications:

1) Stopping terrorist financing doesn't happen without international cooperation. The bulk of the evidence behind the indictment came from a March 2002 raid of the charity's offices in Bosnia. That was where the treasure trove of Al Qaeda documents were found. Swiss banking authorities also must have cooperated in discovering the alleged laundering of terrorist money through the charity's Swiss bank account.

2) More charities will be busted. Benevolence International was active in Bosnia, Chechnya, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan. So was Al Qaeda. Relief agencies, charities, and terrorist networks swim in the same ocean -- weak and war-torn states. The charities are there because of the suffering; the terrorists are their to fight or to operate free of law enforcement. It's not shocking that terrorists would use charitable agencies as a money laundering conduit -- busting a charity never sounds good. Because charity is one of the five pillars of Islam, Muslim charities are particularly vulnerable to an organizational hybrid that builds schools with one hand while slaughtering civilians with the other. Benevolence International probably did engage in good works in Bosnia, for example. However, they also assisted one of the architects of the 1998 embassy bombings in East Africa. Click here for more on the unfortunate relationship between charities and terrorists.

3) This is just a drop in the bucket. Benevolence International has assets of less than $2 million. Al Qaeda has a number of ways to transfer assets beyond using charities as a cover -- conflict diamonds and currency exchanges, to name two. Stopping the myriad conduits for terrorist financing is not going to be easy.

P.S. Instapundit wonders whether the photo "which showed the defendant in traditional garb brandishing an AK-47" worries his lawyers. One of the defense attorneys -- Matt Piers -- was on the show with me last night. He claims the person in the photo is not his defendant. He didn't provide an explanation for the charity's fondness for Swiss bank accounts.

posted by Dan on 10.10.02 at 11:04 AM