Counter-Terrorism: December 21, 2004

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Indonesian terrorist Imam Samudra, the convicted mastermind of the October, 2002 Bali bombing (that killed 202 people), has just had his autobiography published. One chapter is devoted to describing how he used the Internet to run scams to raise money for supporting terrorist operations. Samudra doesnt describe anything that could not be quickly found on the Internet, and he apparently brought in more cash via credit card fraud and robbing a jewelry store anyway. What Samudra does do is give Islamic radicals even more license to steal. Its long been known that al Qaeda encouraged its members to raise money any way they could. One of the easiest scams has been to steal from Islamic charities. Sometimes these charities give the money willingly, sometimes unwittingly. Another source is wealthy Islamic radicals who are willing to contribute directly to terrorist groups. This last angle is less popular now, especially in Saudi Arabia. Arab governments are cracking down on such contributions, now that these attacks are happening in Arab countries. Some of the donors are also discouraged, as they felt the payments provided immunity from terrorist attacks. Many Arab banks are also helping to track, and freeze, terrorist funds. 

As a practical matter, terrorist organizations are held together by cash. Al Qaeda, during its Afghanistan heyday during the late 1990s, had a large payroll. This is known from the documents that were captured. While the pay was not great (there were a lot of email from field agents pleading for more money), it kept a lot of people in the game. For all the big numbers tossed, terrorists do not appear to have a lot of cash to work with. And a lot of cash appears to be coming from Saddam Hussein supporters. Saddam had billions of dollars to play with, that much is known because of captured records, and over a billion in Saddams cash that was found shortly after the 2003 invasion was over. Subsequent operations uncovered more documents, and other evidence, that a lot more of that cash was still out there, and some of it was being spent to keep Sunni Arabs fighting Americans. Some of the cash got to Syria, where a lot of it entered the banking system, and found its way to other al Qaeda operations. Prisoner interrogations revealed that a lot of the people planting bombs, and ambushing convoys in Iraq were being paid. It is thought that some of the Baath Party (Saddams power base) money is also going to other terrorist organizations. But it is known that most Islamic terrorists outside the Middle East have to pay their own way. Imam Samudra simply comes right out and says it, and tries to help make terrorists more efficient criminals. .

 


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