Tunisia is going through a national tragedy, including assassinations, attacks against security forces, ambushes, etc. Our compatriots are frustrated with these macabre scenes, and all signs indicate that a planned terrorist war will be long and costly. This situation raises two questions regarding the financing of Islamist terrorism and the solutions to cut off its resources.
This phenomenon is not new in Tunisia. The first terrorist activity in the country dates back to August 1987, when four attacks were perpetrated by an Islamist movement, which later became Ennahdha.
In the Arab Maghreb and Tunisia, fundamentalism had no leader. So, Islamists became followers of Sayyid Qutb, [Egypt's prominent Muslim Brotherhood leader in the 1950s and 1960s]. Considered the leading figure of fundamentalism, Qutb advocated violence in order to establish the Islamist state. He believes that jihad in the land of Islam is an obligation.
Qutb’s thoughts were accepted by all fundamentalist movements, thus granting legitimacy to terrorism, which is generously funded by various parties. The latter considered themselves to be waging a holy war, whose devastating effects have been present for decades now.
Who finances Islamist fundamentalism?
It is not easy to determine the funding mechanisms of Islamist terrorism, particularly in Tunisia. Some experts have tried to study this plague by building on experiences and empirical analysis. It turns out that bank transactions have an important role in this regard.
The management of jihadist bank accounts shows that these open accounts are low in cash, the coordinates often change, and the accounts are placed within reputable banks and agencies, and frequently in the same establishment.
Small amounts are transferred to Muslim countries and Europe. In addition, the withdrawals, often exceeding the quota, are made in cash with debit cards, and via money transfer networks.
As for the funding sources, money is transferred under the cover of charity foundations as a front, while in fact it is transferred by world parties involved in embezzlement and misappropriation of funds intended for the mujahedeen, according to several investigations.
The proliferation of this type of foundations has been increasing in our country over the last two years.
An important observation indicates that terrorists are able to have their hands on structured means through charitable groups. The import and export companies, which trade products and consumer goods from Asia to North Africa and the Middle East, is another means of financing jihadists.
For some time now, the establishment of these new types of companies has been proliferating in our country.
According to the French Center for Intelligence Research, the funding of jihad has taken a new dimension. The criminal activity of Islamist groups is further highlighted through kidnapping, extortion of money, drug and arms trafficking, and money laundering.
Levying fees, selling religious books, organizing lectures and collecting personal income contributions also constitute a semi-direct means of financing jihadist actions. According to experts, the annual income of the mujahedeen globally reaches up to $1.0506 trillion and is divided between the zakat (alms-giving), industrial and commercial profits, trafficking of precious metals and marketing of drugs and arms. The gem and jewelry black market has surprisingly been flourishing for a good time now in our country, openly and for all to see, despite warnings by some neighboring countries worried about being ravaged by this disaster. These countries question the effectiveness of the Tunisian authorities and fear corruption may aggravate the situation.
Fighting the financing of jihadist terrorism
In light of the surge of jihadist terrorism, the United Nations adopted a set of measures aimed at the prevention and punishment of all acts aimed at funding terrorism. For its part, the United States passed a law to strengthen the tools detecting and countering terrorism, by authorizing the publication of lists of international terrorist groups or individuals. The European Parliament adopted guidelines based on the activities undertaken by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on money laundering. According to the latter, financial stability can be compromised by criminal activities intended to funnel illegal funds for terrorist purposes.
In Tunisia, despite the obligation to abide by the above mentioned measures, these measures are still far from being implemented. The reasons for this non-compliance are yet to be explained, notwithstanding the fact that we have effective systems for controlling payments locally and internationally and that we are bound by our obligations to ratify all international agreements in this field. It is imperative to ratify and implement the UN guidelines at the global level, in order to control the funding mechanisms of Islamist terrorism in Tunisia and cut off its resources. This must be accompanied by the reporting of suspicious transactions, the consolidation of international cooperation and the detailed verification of transfers.
Tunisia must revise the consistency of its regulations governing the structures that can be used to finance terrorism. The non-profit organization is one of the weakest links. Our country must also apply measures to detect physical cross-border transportation of cash and implement a reporting system or other disclosure obligation. Particular care should be accorded to the management of bank accounts, deposits, withdrawals and transfers, as well as to the monitoring of customer profiles and transactions related to suspicious places.
Regarding the Tunisian financial system, establishing an information and action body must be a priority for fighting money laundering, organized crime activities and terrorism. This should be done by gathering information and developing expertise and operational services. The role of financial institutions in the fight against the financing of terrorism is far from being a crucial added value. Judicial, police and government authorities must therefore intensify efforts to combat the financing of terrorism.
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