U.S. DEPT. OF THE TREASURY press release: “Our allies” openly funding Al-Qaeda in Syria, yet they will stay U.S. partners

From the U.S. Department of the Treasury official press release: Remarks of Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen before the Center for a New American Security on “Confronting New Threats in Terrorist Financing”
3/4/2014, Excerpts from the original presentation:

“Most notably, Qatar, a longtime U.S. ally, has for many years openly financed Hamas, a group that continues to undermine regional stability.  Press reports indicate that the Qatari government is also supporting extremist groups operating in Syria.  To say the least, this threatens to aggravate an already volatile situation in a particularly dangerous and unwelcome manner…”

“…Traditional terrorist financing sources have also helped fuel the ongoing conflict in Syria.  Over the past few years, charitable fundraising networks in the Gulf have collected hundreds of millions of dollars through regular fundraising events held at homes or mosques and through social media pleas.  These networks then use couriers, wire transfers, hawalas, and exchange houses to move those funds to Syria, often to extremists.

Certainly much of the private fundraising in the Gulf related to Syria is motivated by a sincere and admirable desire to ease suffering, and the funds are used for legitimate humanitarian purposes.  The Asad regime’s ongoing brutality in Syria has led to a dire humanitarian crisis – certainly the most pressing in the world today – and the need for humanitarian relief is undeniable.

But a number of fundraisers operating in more permissive jurisdictions – particularly in Kuwait and Qatar – are soliciting donations to fund extremist insurgents, not to meet legitimate humanitarian needs.  The recipients of these funds are often terrorist groups, including al-Qa’ida’s Syrian affiliate, al-Nusrah Front, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the group formerly known as al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI).  


The influx of funds to these groups in Syria poses a serious challenge.  Apart from their highly destabilizing role in the ongoing conflict there, these well-funded and well-equipped groups may soon turn their attention to attacks outside of Syria, particularly as scores of newly radicalized and freshly trained foreign recruits return from Syria to their home countries.


To confront this challenge, we are closely tracking the movement of funds to Syria, especially – but not only – funds coming out of the Gulf.  And we have already targeted and applied sanctions against several key fundraisers, extremist leaders, and terrorist organizations.  We are also actively supporting our partners throughout the region, including the Saudis and the Turks, in their efforts to stem the tide of funding to extremists operating in Syria.


But there are countries in the region that could be doing much more.  Our ally Kuwait has become the epicenter of fundraising for terrorist groups in Syria.  A number of Kuwaiti fundraisers exploit the charitable impulses of unwitting donors by soliciting humanitarian donations from both inside and outside the country, cloaking their efforts in humanitarian garb, but diverting those funds to extremist groups in Syria.  Meanwhile, donors who already harbor sympathies for Syrian extremists have found in Kuwait fundraisers who openly advertise their ability to move funds to fighters in Syria. 


While we congratulate the Kuwaiti Government on steps it has taken recently to enhance its capacity to combat illicit finance, such as enacting a new law outlawing terrorist financing, we urge the Kuwaitis to do more to effectively stem the flow of money to terrorists.


There have been some encouraging conversations recently, but the appointment of Nayef al-Ajmi to be both Minister of Justice and Minister of Islamic Endowments (Awqaf) and Islamic Affairs is a step in the wrong direction.  Al-Ajmi has a history of promoting jihad in Syria.  In fact, his image has been featured on fundraising posters for a prominent al-Nusrah Front financier.  And following his appointment, the Ministry of Awqaf announced it would allow non-profit organizations and charities to collect donations for the Syrian people at Kuwaiti mosques, a measure we believe can be easily exploited by Kuwait-based terrorist fundraisers.


As the Kuwaitis have been reminded recently, we are committed to helping them redouble their efforts to counter those collecting funds for terrorists while ensuring that legitimate charitable donations ease the suffering of the Syrian people.  But the Kuwaitis must understand that the unregulated funding of extremists does more to destabilize the situation in Syria than to help the Syrian people.


Constraining this flow of funds is particularly challenging in an era when social media allows anyone with an Internet connection to set himself up as an international terrorist financier.  We see this activity most prominently in Kuwait and Qatar, where fundraisers aggressively solicit donations online from supporters in other countries, notably Saudi Arabia, which have banned unauthorized fundraising campaigns for Syria.

Private fundraising networks in Qatar, for instance, increasingly rely upon social media to solicit donations for terrorists and to communicate with both donors and recipient radicals on the battlefield.  This method has become so lucrative, and Qatar has become such a permissive terrorist financing environment, that several major Qatar-based fundraisers act as local representatives for larger terrorist fundraising networks that are based in Kuwait.


There should be no doubt that while we remain committed to working with countries such as Kuwait and Qatar to confront ongoing terrorist financing, the U.S. will not hesitate to act on its own to disrupt these terrorist financing networks.  The long list of designated al-Qa’ida-linked fundraisers, financiers, and functionaries is proof of that.


In that vein, Treasury recently designated prominent terrorist financiers Abd al-Rahman bin ‘Umayr al-Nu’aymi (Nu’aymi) and Muhammad `Abd al-Rahman al-Humayqani (Humayqani).  Nu’aymi is a Qatar-based financier who secured funds and provided material support for al-Qa’ida and its affiliates in Syria, Iraq, Somalia, and Yemen.  Humayqani is a Yemen-based fundraiser who used his status in the charitable community as a cover for funneling financial support to AQAP…”

“…Newer groups are also translating territorial control into revenue.  ISIL generates a portion of its extortion-derived proceeds from Iraqi and Syrian oil resources, while its al-Qa’ida-linked rival, al-Nusrah Front, has also exploited local natural resources to raise funds.”

[Emphasis in bold is Levant Report’s]

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