Despite efforts over the last four years the US, the UN and the world still face the never-ending search for those responsible for terrorism and its financiers…
US President George Bush said: “I find that grave acts of terrorism and threats of terrorism committed by foreign terrorists, including the terrorist attacks in New York, Pennsylvania, and the Pentagon committed on September 11, 2001, and the continuing and immediate threat of further attacks on United States nationals or the United States constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.
"In furtherance of my proclamation of September 14, 2001, Declaration of National Emergency by Reason of Certain Terrorist Attacks, I hereby declare a national emergency to deal with that threat.”
Then the FATF issued new international standards to combat terrorist financing, which it called on all countries to adopt and implement in order to deny terrorists and their supporters access to the international financial system.
Its special recommendations were to:
• Take immediate steps to ratify and implement the relevant United Nations instruments;
• Criminalise the financing of terrorism, terrorist acts and terrorist organisations;
• Freeze and confiscate terrorist assets;
• Report suspicious transactions linked to terrorism;
• Provide the widest possible range of assistance to other countries’ law enforcement and regulatory authorities for terrorist financing investigations;
• Impose anti-money laundering requirements on alternative remittance systems;
• Strengthen customer identification measures in international and domestic wire transfers;
• Ensure that entities, in particular non-profit organisations, cannot be misused to finance terrorism.
A plan was laid out in order to secure the swift and effective implementation of these new standards, FATF agreed to the following comprehensive Plan of Action:
• By 31 December 2001, self-assessment by all FATF members against the special recommendations to include a commitment to come into compliance with the special recommendations by June 2002 and action plans addressing the implementation of recommendations not already in place;
• By February 2002, the development of additional guidance for financial institutions on the techniques and mechanisms used in the financing of terrorism;
• In June 2002, the initiation of a process to identify jurisdictions that lack appropriate measures to combat terrorist financing and discussion of next steps, including the possibility of counter-measures, for jurisdictions that do not counter terrorist financing.
• Regular publication by its members of the amount of suspected terrorist assets frozen, in accordance with the appropriate United Nations Security Council Resolutions;
• The provision by FATF members of technical assistance to non-members, as necessary, to assist them in complying with the special recommendations.
With these, the FATF added: “Recognising the vital importance of taking action to combat the financing of terrorism, the FATF has agreed these recommendations, which, when combined with the FATF 40 recommendations on money laundering, set out the basic framework to detect, prevent and suppress the financing of terrorism and terrorist acts.”
However, four years later and many parts of the world are continuing to fight the burning issue.
The recent Harakat al-Muqawamah al-Islamiyyah case and the New York branch of the Arab Bank are perfect examples in showing how much of a problem terrorism financing and money laundering continues to be.
The UN’s guidelines are clear about the repercussions of these crimes which include criminalising the financing of terrorism, terrorist acts and terrorist organisations and ensure that such offences are designated as money laundering predicate offences and implement measures to freeze without delay funds or other assets of terrorists, those who finance terrorism and terrorist organisations in accordance with the United Nations resolutions relating to the prevention and suppression of the financing of terrorist acts.
Each country should also adopt and implement measures, including legislative ones, which would enable appropriate authorities to seize and confiscate property that is the proceeds of the financing of terrorism, terrorist acts or terrorist organisations.
There are now many measures in place to monitor any suspicious activities and carefully watch banks, businesses and individuals involved in such practices, but unfortunately terrorism financing still remains a serious problem.
Terrorist acts in Britain, Spain and the Netherlands provide painful confirmation that Europe is both a base for and a target of terrorist cells.
Less noticed, however, is the fact that Europe has also been exploited by terrorists as a haven for raising, moving and storing money.
Moreover, the support networks of al Qaeda and the Taliban still remain a serious threat in Europe and around the world.
As it would seem, the world just can’t get a grip on who and what exactly finances this form of organised crime until it is too late.
September 11 opened eyes to new policies and legalisations, the Bali bombings made leaders more serious about following them and now in the wake of the London bombings it seems again not just individual countries should take serious action but the UN Security Council must come up with some serious solutions of prevention.
It is time to translate these words into action and strengthen what might be the most powerful tool for global action against those who provide money, arms, technology or other support to al Qaeda and the Taliban – Resolution 1617.
When an individual or entity is designated pursuant to the resolution, states are required to freeze their assets, deny them access to the financial system and prevent them from travelling internationally or acquiring arms.
Resolution 1617 has the potential to be an extraordinarily effective tool as it envisages 191 UN member states acting as one to isolate al Qaeda’s supporters, both physically and financially.
The impact of these sanctions depends, however, upon their breadth and depth of application and money flows will seek out the path of least resistance.
In unanimously adopting Resolution 1617, the Security Council took forceful action to address these issues. The resolution articulates a detailed and clarified definition of what constitutes an association with al Qaeda and contains enhanced due process provisions to ensure the designation process is as open and fair as possible.
The US is leading by example as the Department of the Treasury recently designated three individuals residing in Italy providing financial material support to the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, a group tied to al Qaeda.
"Today’s action targets individuals operating an al Qaeda-linked terrorist cell in Italy that recruited combatants, raised funds for terrorist activities and even planned terrorist attacks," said Stuart Levey, the Treasury’s Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence (TFI) said of the find.
"We will continue to stand with Italy and our other allies around the world to attack the financing of terrorism."
The US Department of the Treasury has since raised the passage of a UN Security Counsel Resolution (UNSCR) further tightening global sanctions against the Taliban, al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.
"The strengthened resolution is vital to further impede – both financially and logistically – Osama bin Laden and his followers," said Mr Levey.
The resolution renews and strengthens information against the Taliban, and carries with it the consolidated list of terrorists tied to the Taliban and al Qaeda.
The Committee’s list also triggers international obligations on all UN member countries, requiring them to freeze the assets and prevent the travel of listed individuals and to block the sale of arms and military equipment.
After an initially robust attempt to curtail financing for international terrorism, the Bush administration’s current efforts are strategically inadequate to assure the sustained results needed to protect US security.
In the UK, the bodies at the day-to-day forefront of the fight against terrorist financing are the Security Service, the National Terrorist Financial Investigation Unit (NTFIU) and the Terrorist Finance Unit of the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS).
The importance of multi-agency co-ordination in this field cannot be underestimated.
In a recent case, deploying Security Service and NTFIU intelligence-gathering methods, NCIS has been able to profile a significant number of accounts, all of which are believed to be part of fundraising activities related to a specific terrorist group.
The Security Service is the lead agency for combating international terrorism in the United Kingdom and Irish-related terrorism outside of Northern Ireland.
It plays a key role in informing British government policy on terrorism finance and in intelligence-led investigations.
The Security Service has raised understanding of the methodology of terrorist financing within government and law enforcement agencies, but the fight against these crimes will continue unless more funds and manpower can be employed to execute current policies and resolutions.
[Editor’s Note: A statement from Arab Bank said, ‘Contrary to the suggestion made in an earlier version of this article, federal banking regulators in the United States did not conclude that Arab Bank had done business with officially designated terrorist organisations. Instead, the issues cited in the recent Arab Bank Consent Order centre on the screening procedures for transfers initiated by correspondent banks with parties that were not included at the time on prohibited transaction lists.’]