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EDITORIAL: Africa And Terrorism Funding



President Muhammadu Buhari may have put his finger exactly on the solution to terrorism in the African continent when he urged his fellow leaders to collaborate to stop ransom payments and all forms of financing for terrorism networks. This was part of his opening address at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The Nigerian leader also said that the creation of a continental database on terrorist groups and a halt to all flows of funds to them ought to be part of a comprehensive approach to fighting the threat.

It is a surprise that this idea is just occurring to African leaders even as terrorists attempt to overrun the continent. However, we noted that as belated as it is, if the idea is adopted and implemented, it will go a long way in checking the menace those gangs of criminals constitute which is also standing in the way of meaningful development in a continent already in dire need of resources to improve her socio-economic wellbeing.

In Nigeria, for instance, terrorist groups both in the North and South of the country have consistently constituted themselves as threats to the corporate existence of the country through insurrection, agitation, militancy and kidnapping. They have almost turned those reprehensible activities into an industry through demands for ransom when they kidnap or abduct innocent citizens.   Elsewhere in the continent, terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Al-Shabaab, another al-Qaeda linked group, have raised millions of dollars from ransom payments for their nefarious activities.

It is critical to note that ransoms are just a part of how these criminals raise the funds they use in their illicit operations. Donations by charities were once the largest source of terrorist funding, coming mostly from wealthy individuals. It is also known that the largest source of terrorists’ income is from the illicit drug trade. Many terrorist groups have supported themselves through other illegal commerce as well. They also attempt to operate legitimate businesses using front companies which generate their own profits. These are eventually laundered to fund terrorist operations.

The international community was actually jolted from its self-induced complacency regarding the seriousness of the matter after 9/11 attacks during which the twin towers in New York, United States of America were brought down by Al-Qaeda. More than 3000 lives were estimated to have been lost in that single terrorist attack. It brought an international sense of urgency to disrupting terrorists’ financial networks. In response and within a few weeks, the United Nations (UN) Security Council adopted a wide-ranging resolution demanding that countries take action to suppress terrorist financing. The following month, the Financial Action Task Force, an intergovernmental body, issued a list of recommendations that became the basis for many governments’ efforts.

These included passing legislation specifically criminalizing terrorist financing, requiring financial institutions to report suspicious transactions, creating a greater degree of international cooperation in tracking down terrorist financiers, and ratifying the UN convention on financing terrorism, a step that has been taken by 150 countries.

As a follow up, many countries created special agencies to deal decisively with the situation that has assumed a crisis dimension. The United States expeditiously created a special agency—the Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence—to coordinate these efforts. The Patriot Act, along with subsequent legislation, created tough legal measures to combat terrorist financing. It demanded that banks must report any suspicious activities and are also required to check their clients and third parties involved in transactions against a list of suspected terrorists.

Through this process, USA has been able to track down more than $140 million in terrorists’ assets and frozen same across some 1,400 bank accounts worldwide. The major challenge, even with this measured success, is that terrorist groups have become increasingly adept at eluding detection through use of cash, sophisticated laundering operations, or legitimate front companies.

What this means is that Africa, with its obsolete infrastructure, has a lot of work to do as part of its effort to monitor and disrupt the flow of funds in and around the continent. But the good news, in our view, is that given the international nature of the crime that these terrorists perpetrate, a lot can be achieved through information sharing among countries. All the countries in Africa need to do is to link up with agencies fighting the crime in the United States, Europe and elsewhere, countries that have actually tasted the bitter bill of terrorism.

The setting up of the database as suggested by President Buhari, in our opinion, will give the international community access to efforts by African countries to check the crime and also offer a platform to channel any assistance that may be needed from time to time.





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