(Al-Nusra video)

Terror Groups Exploiting Humanitarian Crisis in Syria to Funnel Jihadists, Cash

An analysis by a research fellow at an Australian think-tank found that terrorists have been exploiting the humanitarian disaster in Syria to channel jihadists and funds to their organizations under the guise of charitable assistance.

The UN Refugee Agency says bloody conflict that has torn Syria apart has sent more than 5.4 million people fleeing the country since 2011 and internally displaced 6.1 million more. The number of Syrians in need is more than 13 million, and nearly 3 million of the needy are trapped in besieged or hard-to-reach areas.

In the analysis “Charities and Terrorism: Lessons from the Syrian Crisis,” Rodger Shanahan notes that “while terrorist abuse of charitable donations is a limited problem, even small amounts of funding can have disproportionately large effects.”

“Early government intervention in setting due diligence standards for humanitarian aid groups operating in, or raising funds for use in, high-risk conflict zones is essential,” he adds.

The paper says that in Australia, “terrorists and their supporters have at times sought to portray themselves as humanitarian workers in order to construct a legal defense.”

“Humanitarian disasters offer opportunities for terrorist groups to infiltrate conflict areas under the guise of providing humanitarian assistance, and to raise or send funds to these areas under the same cover,” says the analysis. “While most humanitarian groups operating in Syria have legitimate aims, the civil war and rise of radical Islamist groups that resulted has shown how easily the desire to assist those in need can be manipulated by jihadists.

Shanahan recommends that western nations “utilize regulatory and legislative frameworks to limit the ability of individuals and groups to exploit humanitarian assistance in high-risk areas.”

“In some cases, jihadists have used social media to create profiles of themselves as humanitarian workers. Carefully curated images of individuals working with ‘orphans and widows’ are almost impossible for media organisations or researchers to verify. Intelligence agencies, which may have a more complete picture of an individual’s activities, are not always able to dispute the portrayal of foreign fighters as humanitarian workers because of their need to protect sources. Without sufficient evidence that can be used in court, these humanitarian narratives often remain largely unchallenged,” he writes.

“…As well as using humanitarian cover to travel to conflict zones, jihadists are also using charity organisations to finance terrorism. The suffering of people in Syria and Iraq has evoked a great deal of sympathy, especially among Syrian and Iraqi communities outside of their respective countries, as well as the Muslim community more broadly. It has prompted many in these communities to donate generously to charity drives, including some led by small, newly established not-for-profit groups. Much of this activity has been legitimate and the money donated has helped to address genuine humanitarian needs. However, jihadist groups have also exploited the urge to help by masquerading as or manipulating genuine charities.”

That problems is international, Shanahan stresses, highlighting the U.S. Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence’s 2014 claim that “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.”

“Just how much charitable money has been channeled to jihadist groups in Syria or Iraq is difficult to know,” Shananhan writes, noting the limited options for above-board legitimate money transfer options in conflict zones.

The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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