Terrorist Recruitment Efforts Leave Financial Clues for Bankers: FATF

By Daniel Bethencourt and Valentina Pasquali

Financial institutions are in a unique position to spot terrorist recruiters whose transactional activity and fraudulent charitable operations can link them to broader extremist networks, according to new analysis by the Financial Action Task Force.

But the overall task of identifying financial flows associated with recruitment efforts remains difficult because they commonly involve small sums, while recruiters and the groups they support often do not exhibit clear indications of financial ties, the intergovernmental group found in a 34-page report released Friday.

“While many recruitment methods are relatively low cost, others require substantial initial or ongoing investment,” FATF wrote.

Financial flows play a role in virtually every stage of the recruitment process and are often directly interwoven with fraudulent campaigns that range from abusing crowdfunding websites to misleading charitable donors into establishing opaque networks of nonprofit groups, according to the report.

“What’s new, in essence, is not that groups fund such activities, or that they tax/extort local populations or abuse charity to do so, but rather the extent to which this and other terrorist activities are self-funded,” Matthew Levitt, former deputy assistant secretary for intelligence and analysis at the U.S. Treasury Department wrote in an email.

Recruitment often happens over the internet, especially in Europe, though terrorist sympathizers also find and groom new members in person within religious centers, prisons or territory they control.

Those efforts entail costs associated with air travel and other transport for new members, living expenses, high-quality video production, and rent and mortgage for locations to encourage participation, according to FATF.

Recruitment and finance also overlap in private online chat rooms where members exchange propaganda along with bank account details, and reveal “the true purpose of purportedly charitable donations,” said FATF, which also noted the prominent role charities still play in recruitment and financing.

In one example cited by FATF, an Islamic State-affiliated cell in Egypt responsible for killing 24 police officers in a 2013 attack raised funds by operating a false charity that was intentionally monikered and advertised to resemble a well-known charity in the country.

Another case saw a false charity that purported to help Syrian refugees serve as a front for a Syria-based terror recruitment cell that collected bank cards, e-wallets and mobile phones to aid new recruits.

In 2014, authorities in Russia and other countries froze roughly 200 financial instruments controlled and distributed by the group, according to FATF.

Another recruiter, dubbed “person M,” raised at least $21,000 through social media after arriving in Turkey in 2013. The person transferred donations into bank accounts and withdrew the cash.

By 2014 “person M” had escalated the campaign by renting and converting a hotel near the Syrian border into a base of operations that could offer living space and other means of support to recruits in route to Syria. The recruiter also remitted proceeds to new members’ relatives.

FATF also cited Bitcoin as a possible means of payment for the production of Islamic State propaganda.

A request by administrators of an Islamic State website for donations in bitcoins resulted in the transfer of five payments from unidentifiable sources to a Bitcoin wallet address in response. The terror organization then drew on the funds to cover webhosting costs, according to FATF, which referenced research by the Egmont Group of financial intelligence units, or FIUs.

Terrorists have solicited donations in bitcoins on a handful of occasions, most of which proved unsuccessful, former CIA analyst Yaya Fanusie told ACAMS

“Particularly with the price increase in Bitcoin … it actually makes sense that more people are figuring out how they could use it,” said Fanusie, now director of analysis with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy center in Washington, D.C.

The report published Friday also describes recruiting patterns that appear to have taken place entirely outside the formal financial system. One terrorist organization transferred sums ranging from $1,000 and $20,000-worth of shekels to militants incarcerated in Israel through a network of middlemen, each of whom collected a fee.

“The payments were forwarded on several occasions, through the middlemen, meeting in a variety of locations in different cities, sometimes using up to three legs to transfer a payment,” FATF reported.

Many FIUs are barred from providing foreign authorities with details of suspected recruiters who have not already been conclusively identified by another authority, hamstringing efforts to tackle recruitment campaigns in their early stages, FATF concluded in the report.

Topics : Anti-money laundering , Counterterrorist Financing
Source: FATF
Document Date: January 12, 2018