Foreign aid organizations are demanding that the international effort to halt illegal money transfers to terrorists be halted in Somalia. This year nearly all international banks implemented an agreement to halt transfers to Somalia, because a small portion of that money ended up financing al Shabaab (the main Islamic terrorist organization there). In addition to money raised by al Shabaab supporters among the half million Somalis living in the West, al Shabaab in Somalia also “taxed” remittances sent to families there. Some 40 percent of the Somali population is dependent on these remittances, which make up about a third of the $4 billion Somali GDP.
The foreign aid groups point out that with another drought on the way. The one in 2011 killed a quarter of a million, largely because al Shabaab banned the “un-Islamic” food aid from those needing it. The remittance money has the difference between life and death for many families, especially when there is a drought. The foreign aid groups also point out that there are illegal ways to transfer cash (like halwa) that are more expensive and more subject to fraud so many Somalis will get their remittances anyway, only at a higher cost. The counter-terrorism experts make the case that anything that will diminish financial support for al Shabaab helps. That’s because al Shabaab is a major source of terrorist violence in Somalia and Kenya and will continue to exist as long as it is getting cash. Usually left undiscussed is the fact that al Shabaab and other local outlaws also steal a portion of any aid coming into an area where the bad guys are present.
The basic problem here is that over the last few decades supporters of Islamic terrorism came to realize how easy it is to move to the West and then raise large sums of money for terrorist causes. The money is often solicited (usually for “charitable work”), extorted or obtained through criminal enterprises and then smuggled to where the terrorists need it. This would be Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, or places where weapons smugglers operate (Malaysia has been a favorite for a while).
The donations are usually raised from Moslem groups, particularly those from the areas that are to benefit from the charitable operations. It’s not just Islamic terrorists who use this technique. The Tamil (Hindu) rebels in Sri Lanka used these methods to keep their war going for over two decades. Sikh separatists similarly raised millions from overseas Sikhs to support over two decades (1970s-1990s) of violence in India. The communist NPA rebels in the Philippines raised millions from fellow leftists in Europe for decades before the NPA was declared an international terrorist organization. By 2006, the contributions from Europe died up, and so did hopes of the NPA to establish a communist dictatorship in the Philippines. The IRA (Irish Republican Army), and various splinter groups, also survived for decades by raising, usually illegally, money among expatriate Irish. The fund raising often involved extortion. A particularly nasty angle was threatening to hurt kin back in the old country if wealthier expatriates did not give enough.
With all these groups, once the fund raising was shut down, or simply put under legal pressure, they began to shrink, and eventually face defeat. But each organization tends to devise its own unique fund raising system. For Islamic terrorists, the largest source of cash has long been Saudi Arabia. But this began to dry up after 2003, when Saudi Arabia began a long sought (by the United States) crackdown on Islamic terrorist fund raisers. Many wealthy (or simply generous) Saudis had long contributed to "Islamic charities" which everyone knew were also supporting Islamic terrorist groups. Until the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Saudis resisted repeated calls from the West to crack down on the terrorist fund raising in Saudi Arabia. These charities and Islamic terrorism was simply too popular. But once U.S. troops overthrew Saddam, al Qaeda ended its long time truce with the Saudi government and launched a series of terror attacks. Al Qaeda was defeated in a two year long campaign mainly because the Saudi population did not support Islamic terrorism in their own back yard. Part of this counter-terror effort was a long overdue effort to shut down the terrorist fund raising. This is still going on but because of the crackdown a lot less cash is getting to the terrorists from Saudi sources.
In Southeast Asia, the money drought had a more noticeable impact on Indonesian and Filipino terrorists, who were more dependent on the foreign cash. Several couriers were captured after 2003, and the media publicized the fact that these guys were not just carrying messages back and forth, but were also moving cash from the Persian Gulf. Couriers also carried messages back to Saudi Arabia, pleading for cash. The terrorists pleaded that they were broke, being hounded by the police, and were unable to get a major effort going without money (for bomb materials, bribes and living expenses for the terrorists.) The reason couriers are used to move cash is because using the international banking system has gotten too dangerous. So has the unofficial (and often illegal) traditional halwa (informal letters of credit) system. The reduction in cash from Arabia was a major factor in the collapse in Islamic terrorist activity in Southeast Asia after 2003.
The counter-terrorist organizations that chase after the money men are understandably quiet about who their suspects are. In Saudi Arabia some of the donors are prominent citizens in a country where Islamic conservatism is considered a good thing. This is the case throughout the Persian Gulf and for a long time it was believed that by leaving the terrorism bankers alone, the terrorists would not operate in the area. The 2003 decision to launch terror attacks in Saudi Arabia was not unanimous among the terrorist elite, but the campaign soon acquired a life of its own, despite the failure to hit any important targets. Saudi police come down hard, although discreetly, on local donors who are, despite their piety, aiding Islamic terrorism. The donors justify their continued contributions because they believe the money is being spent to kill infidels (non-Moslems). But in fact that is rarely possible and most attacks manage to kill Moslems as well. In fact, most of the victims of Islamic terrorism in the last two decades have been Moslems.
Since September 11, 2001 the U.S. has had increasing success in shutting off terrorist access to the international financial network. This is arcane stuff, but it forces the terrorists to be creative, and resort to more risky methods for moving cash. This often results in the terrorists being detected. There follows a secret investigation and, eventually, as in this case, a large organization getting broken up.
In Afghanistan, the Islamic terrorists have found a friend in the heroin business. By getting in involved in the production and movement of heroin (to adjacent countries, and eventually the West), the Taliban and al Qaeda have a source of cash, as well as some Islamically correct recreation. While Islam specifically forbids alcohol, it is a little vague on stuff like heroin, which didn't exist when the Koran was written. Over the last thousand years, Islamic radicals have used drugs to inspire the faithful. Technically, anything that "intoxicates" is forbidden, but Islamic radicals get into arguments over whether some drugs inspire, rather than "intoxicate." This sort of thing is just another reason for mainline Moslems to reject al Qaeda. Unfortunately, mainline Moslems are not as willing to fight and kill for their beliefs as al Qaeda is. So while many Moslem clerics actively preach against the use of heroin and cocaine by the faithful, they are often less inclined to criticize how Islamic radicals pay their bills.