Fighting financial terrorism

  • It’s about patterns

Recently, a gang has been arrested in Karachi that was involved in kidnapping for ransom to provide financial support to its members fighting in various parts of Af-Pak region. Such gangs are reportedly facilitating anti-state elements to carry out terror related activities in the region. Apart from the criminal background of the members of these gangs, the sources of terror financing through kidnapping for ransom has highlighted a range of possibilities where by a terrorist or a criminal group can utilise unconventional methods for accumulating money to sustain terror or criminal activities in a given area. This aspect of terror financing needs to be examined and debated among senior police command so that local law enforcers can conveniently deal with this new threat. Unfortunately, the focus of Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) is not on financial aspect of terrorism and most of the cases in which terrorists have been arrested are rarely investigated to determine the potential financial sources used for constantly staging criminal or terror activities in an area.

There are five factors which may form the basis for terror financing and hence must be considered while investigating terror incidents. Such cases should therefore be minutely scrutinised and finances involved therein be estimated to determine exact terror threat assessment in the country. First it is essential for us to find out Informal Financial Channel Density (IFCD) in a district or a region or a province. By IFCD we mean number of informal financial channels available to cater for the needs of the local population. It includes ease of accessibility, availability and usability of unofficial financial mechanism on daily basis. Greater the IFCD in any district or an area, higher are the chances of terror financing in the region. For example, more than forty persons were arrested by Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) last month in the suburban area of Peshawar on suspicion of terror financing. Incidentally, Peshawar is among the top cities with high informal financial channels like hundi and hawala in Pakistan.

Second, the population living in a district or a region, if not properly documented, may become an active or a passive source for terror financing. Such undocumented human habitations abound with people of different parochial belongings and ethnic backgrounds who can easily be used as financial terror carriers to various sleeper cells in the area. The establishment of unauthorised motels, mosques and other private encroachments may become an effective source of funds collection by persons of particular ethnic or religious backgrounds. For example, a B-pharmacy qualified person, belonging to Mardan, was arrested from Korangi on September 21, 2018 by Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) Sindh, who confessed to have treated more than 32 militants and collected funds for a defunct organisation. Moreover, he also revealed that he had been actively doing this job for last couple of years targeting selective population living in the peripheral area of Karachi.

Third, frequent movement or migration of people within a given geographic area enhances probability of terror financing. For example, after the advent of Afghan war, a large number of people were displaced and such human unsettlement is still going on which provides chances of terror financing through unconventional means such as transfer of money from one person to another through human channels without involving any financial institution in it. In this way, hard cash is carried through human medium which can easily be hidden among a swamp of undocumented population and then transported to the desired destination. The porous Pak-Afghan border and high incidence of human movement can easily be used for smuggling of goods and narcotics which, reportedly, can fetch a handsome amount of money for terror purposes.

Unfortunately Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) are handicapped by absence of well trained, well-coordinated and well-equipped transnational Counter Terrorism Force

Four, lack of proper rules and procedures provide ample space to individuals or institutions to manipulate the current system and use it as a launching pad for transfer of small amount of money, which cannot be easily corroborated with any personal terror initiatives. Lastly, social media and internet surfing have also multiple terror financing avenues for computer savvy youth in poor backyards of big cities. Anyone can easily upload a video or a message for the purpose of collection of donations with infinite outreach to the community.

According to a report by Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), the social media has become not only a communication platform but also emerged as an effective way of gathering online companies and individuals on any moot point. Since it provides a range of individual communication avenues, therefore such broadcasting techniques can reach out to millions of people without any interruption and blocking. These unchecked free spaces are available to every terror operator who can manipulate their listeners and viewers and can generate huge amount of money through multiple channels. Lack of oversight over social media and internet activity also intensifies prospect of terror financing as well. The dilemma with third world countries is that they have an outdated infrastructure but are trying to catch up with modern technological developments which are not sustainable under present infrastructure. As a result it can easily be exploited and maneuvered by an individual, a group or a company to get the outcomes of their choices. These factors point towards major challenges for police and other law enforcers to detect and investigate financial terror transactions in an independent and neutral way.

Unfortunately Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) are handicapped by absence of well trained, well-coordinated and well-equipped transnational Counter Terrorism Force which can take action independently through mutual coordination and information sharing. The current void of unknown financial avenues due to lack of training, low expertise and skills of LEAs has enhanced the threat of terrorism manifold. Apart from it, inability to establish personal gains of suspects with terrorism has further complicated the current security environment making it difficult for local law enforcers to understand the complete dynamics of terrorism unfolding in their area of jurisdiction.

The counter financial terror regime is all about documenting of unknown population, registering migration patterns, mapping unconventional hinterland or inland routes, determining informal financial channel density and other auxiliary factors. The basic aim is to catalog human behavioral patterns to minimise the unconventional means of manipulating and hiding finances. Once such archiving takes place, a person remotely sitting anywhere in the world can easily track and trace not only a human movement but also any financial transaction across the globe.