From Lenin to Bin Laden
How can a terrorist operation like that of the 11th of September, be financed? Which are the channels used by Bin Laden’s ‘multinational’ of terror to subsidize the peripheral offices (the cells), which guarantee the supply of (arms, explosives, counterfeited documents) and maintain the high level of specialization of its members (terrorist training)? The answers furnished in this article might hold some surprises.
One hundred years has passed since Lenin’s teachings, but in Europe, other groups have borrowed the Bolshevik and Menshevik experience, fixing for ever in our minds, the images of the victims of the ‘revolutionary robberies’, the financing system of the terrorists’ activities.
To support a large clandestine organization, to buy weapons, explosives, detonators, to train, house, feed a great number of ‘professionals’, huge capital is needed.
This was certainly a problem that the leaders of the extremist organizations had to face: from Stedano Delle Chiaie to Prospero Gallinari, from Jean Marc Rouillian to Ulriche Meinhof and, in Belgium, Pierre Carette who saw the decline of his organization, Les Cellules Communistes Combattantes, also because of the lack of finances. In the international panorama, instead, it does not seem that money is a problem - on the contrary!
The Islamic terrorism does not commit robberies, does not kill to obtain ready cash and does not expose itself to risky investigations which could compromise the whole organization or the actual terrorist actions.
Who paid for the training of the 11th of September killers? Who provided for their accommodation? Who gave them the money to have a ‘good time’ in the American night clubs during the days before the attack?
To enter into the financial questions of the Islamic terrorism, means to try to cover a much vaster ground than the isolated, appropriately called, terrorist ‘cells’. It means to glide on an insidious swamp with ephemeral, moving borders: that of the religious fundamentalism and its economic system, to find out that terrorism and Islamic finance often coincide.
On the 26th of January, 2002, the Attorney General of Tirana put Yassin Qadi under investigation, a Saudi constructor and his Karavan Construction, with which he was planning the construction, in the Albanian capital, of two sky-scrapers to be sarcastically named ‘twin towers’. The investigation was begun after the publication, on the 12th of October 2001, of a list of suspected financiers of Al Qaeda, in which Yassin Qadi is represented as al-Qadi Yassin.
Yassin Qadi is an emblematic case. Born in Jeddah – the city where the family of Bin Laden resides and where, according to the White House, the Saudi entrepreneur, Wael Hamza Jalaidan, constructed the financial network of Osama Bin Laden’s terrorist organization - Yassin Qadi is an entrepreneur and also the president of Muwafaq, known in the West as Blessed Relief, an humanitarian organization, which has more than once made newspaper headlines, over suspicion of involvement in shady financial operations, but above all, for having been the probable cover for the entrance of terrorists and money destined to Al Qaeda into those countries where it assists the needy. Qadi, therefore, represents two of the three main sources of supply to Islamic terrorism: business enterprise and charity.
Together with the business enterprises and humanitarian organizations, however, there is the third source: banks.
There has never really existed a banking tradition in the major part of the Moslem countries, also because the Koran forbids usury and interest on loans. The banks are a relatively recent evolution of the Islamic economic system. Up to the beginning of the 1970’s, financial business was based, principally, on hawala, a relationship based on trust between operators (hawaladar), to effect payments and money transfers without any kind of accountancy, only a series of code words and on the loan of honour.
Notwithstanding the introduction of banks, it is estimated that to date, only 50% of the financial transactions, including the international ones, are carried out through banks.
In the Islamic banks, no trace is left of effected transactions: at their conclusion, all documents are cancelled and, therefore, the possibility of reconstructing money movements also vanishes.
Hawala and Islamic banks are governed by the same law, the Shari’a, but while the Hawala is controlled and guaranteed by the local religious authority, the banks are under the control of an entity called the Committee of the Shari’a, the full name of which is the Supervisory Board of Islamic Banks and Institutions. The Committee, which has the scope of conciliating the Shari’a with the profits, controls thousands of banks and financial Institutes throughout the world, among which are over two hundred in the U.S.A. and over one thousand in Europe, mostly concentrated in the City of London. These institutions offer investments and estate management in exchange for participation in the profits, and investments in production activities approved by Islam. The deposits handled by these Institutes all together, amount to, approximately, 150 billion euro.
The profit from funds managed by Islamic banks is good, but not very transparent. Moreover, a privileged category exists, among which are the thousands of components of the al-Saud royal family, who often hide behind the principle of “sovereign immunity”, the same enjoyed by the monarchic States in the United Kingdom. The result is that the Saudi banks connected to the royal family escape all forms of control.
The most well-known bank of all is the BCCI, the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, founder of the entire Islamic banking system and considered the most important financial institution of the third world, even after the ruinous crash of 1991. We can say that the BCCI is the model on which all the other Islamic banks have been based. The financing system is the one known as loan-back. It is a loan guaranteed only by one’s own deposit. The system has been utilized to open the way to huge investments of Moslem clients in non-Islamic countries, even if, in reality, the access to loan-back was limited to major shareholders of the bank, among whom are Khalid bin Mahfuz, owner of the National Commerce Bank and Qamal Adam, the former chief of the Saudi Intelligence.
The bank, established in Luxemburg in 1972, with deposits and administration in the Cayman Islands and head office in London, became owner, infringing all the rigid United States control regulations, of the First American Bank and the National Bank of Georgia, through a front man, Gaith Pharaon, who utilized a non guaranteed loan of half a billion dollars for the purchase. The BCCI was investigated, between 1988 and 1991 for a number of financial crimes, among which was recycling. On the 5th of July 1991, it was shut down, leaving 19 billion dollars in debts and in 2001 the Bank of England paid to the liquidators, a fine of one and a half billion euro for their lack of supervision and control over the BCCI.
There is a long list of the questionable operations of the BCCI and there is also a lot of talk about its customers. For example, the Panama dictator, Noriega, the Iraq tyrant, Saddam Hussein, who used it for channelling the oil income, or the well-known Doctor Abdul Qader Kan, who initiated the Pakistani military nuclear programme.
The BCCI, aside from its illegal activities is, however, still remembered with regret by many customers who, even though they lost all their money, recognize it as being the only bank to grant funds to small agriculture and small, scarcely remunerative activities. The conditions were always the same: beneficiaries were to be Moslem of proven faith, better still, if they were fundamentalists.
The BCCI substitutes were some important Saudi banking institutions, among which were the Dar al-Mal al-Islami and the Dallah al-Baraqa group (DMI and DAB), both very close to the royal family and tied to the Sudanese al Shamil Islamic Bank, the famous bank purchased, according to the CIA, by Osama Bin Laden for the sum of only fifty million dollars, in 1994.
One of the main goals of the Islamic banks, albeit not declared, is not the profit, but the diffusion of fundamentalism.
In Albania and Kosovo, the Arab Albanian Islamic Bank (branch office of the Arab Islamic Bank) permitted the construction of hundreds of mosques, granting funds without restitution and paying paid scholarships in Islamic Universities to needy young Albanians, or small “per diem”, provided that the women of the family wore the “chador”. The result is that the new Albanian Imams, indoctrinated abroad, are unleashing the latent religious conflict.
The wahhabism is the first form of fundamentalism diffused in the world, since its financiers are the rich Saudi Wahhabites Sheiks; this fundamentalism infiltrates the most vulnerable parts of the weakest nations, where the power of the State is not able to exercise even a minimum control.
In the same way, in Cecenia, where the Moscow Army has wiped out the last vestiges of State legitimacy, without, however, being able to replace it, justice is being administered by various Islamic courts, which impose the Shari’a, especially, in the villages, where groups of armed wahhabite, financed by the Saudis, hold power against the people’s will.
Further still, this is also happening in Afghanistan where, apart from Kabul, the rest of the nation is in the hands of the supporters of the Koranic law; in Sudan, where the government holds control only in the capital, and not even the whole of it, since, beyond the Nile, in the satellite town of Omdurman, the great number of resident Africans make it very difficult for the authorities to keep control; in Somalia, the ghost nation, par excellence, where the central power is simply non-existent; in all situations where the State is weak or barely present, fundamentalism finds fertile ground to establish itself. It enjoys substantial financial resources and immediately sets up illegal activities. Wherever the State is present, however, fundamentalism takes advantage of the social problems. This is the case in a great number of moderate Islamic countries and of those countries with strong immigration like Italy and, even more, where the Islamic communities are very large, like Great Britain.
Obviously, the money does not go from the bank cash register directly into the terrorist leaders’ pockets, but it follows a path which, only very rarely, emerges to be seen in crystal clear detail.
The Islamic Banks apply the zahat to personal fortunes, namely the alms contribution imposed by the religion. It is about 2% of any individual patrimony; it is not required to be shown in the accounting records because it is prescribed by divine law: every year, billions of dollars flow in the coffers of the philanthropic and humanitarian organizations. Up to this point, no faults can be found because it is a form of money re-distribution which benefits thousands of people.
The problems arise when intermediaries with terrorist groups hide within these philanthropic organizations. One cannot generalize, but keeping to the facts which have been discovered, so far, by researchers, journalists and the authorities and have been released for public information, it is possible to obtain a few names: the already mentioned Blessed Relief, the English Islamic Relief, the Sudanese-Bosnian Third World Relief Agency, the English Al Muntada Al-Islami Trust (whose Sudanese manager of the Kenya branch was arrested and expelled from the Country), the American Islamic African Relief Agency, the Swiss Association de Secours Pelestinien, the Libanese Sanabil Association for Relief and Development: the list continues for many pages.
It is true that most of the non-governmental organizations accused of financing terrorism come from a list prepared by the U.S. Treasury Department, sometimes based on investigations on local offices, branches or individuals within the structures.
An impetus was given to these investigations by the circumstantial accusations, published in the book, “The Terrorist Huntress" (1) , in which it brought to light how certain NGO feminine financiers, ignored by the FBI, were, in fact, traced back to prominent people of the reigning family of Saudi Arabia.
It must not be thought that an Islamic NGO, even if it finances Bin Laden or Hamas or any other terrorist group, is simply a front-man organization: on the contrary.
Let us take, for example, the Al-Rashid Trust, a Pakistani organization which operates in Afghanistan and seems to have never denied being close to Osama Bin Laden: although the World Reference Dictionary has placed its name between those of Al Capone and Al Qaeda, it has given assistance to thousands of people in Afghanistan, Kashmir, Pakistan, Kosovo and Cecenia, by creating a network of bread bakeries, hospitals and distributions of essential commodities; it also supplied thousands of sewing machines to the Afghan war widows, to enable them to begin an activity. Part of the money which comes from donors is invested in two publications, ‘Dharb-e-Momin’ in English and ‘Zarb-E-Momin’ in Urdu, and in a radio in Karachi, where the ‘best’ anti-American propaganda can be read and heard.
It is said that most of the members of the Al-Rashidi Trust are Afghan veterans. The most recent official balance of the Trust is four million dollars.
This is the strength of the NGO Moslems close to terrorism: first of all, they are genuine charitable organizations and for this reason, they receive funds also from the common people.
The economic system of the terrorist archipelagos is much more complex than a simple give and take between productive and active subjects of the armed struggle.
The cell, the basic unit of the whole organization, just as the newly accepted associations, receive a financing quota for the first necessities or to start a legal economic activity, but it is a rule that everyone must manage their own budget and survive autonomously, being able to turn-back part of the profits into the organization.
The economic activities, both legal and illegal, are deeply tied to the contemporary jihad, and the network of cells and small financiers which have developed, as a consequence, is so vast that it is almost impossible to counteract.
In many cases, western banks have tried to freeze the accounts of companies connected with terrorism, but the reaction was negligible and new accounts were immediately opened by front-men companies.
Honey has been one of the targets of American ant-terrorism, when it was found that two Yemanite companies, the al-Nur Honey and the al-Shifa Honey Press turned over their profits directly to front-men companies of the Al-Qaeda. Yemenite honey is of very good quality and it is exported everywhere in the Islamic world. It is contained in large barrels and it is an ideal place to hide smuggled goods like arms or drugs. It can be imagined how eager Customs Inspectors are to dig their hands into this sticky substance, to say nothing of profaning the symbolic value for Moslems: the “…. garden which has been promised to the Devout (of Allah): there will be streams (…..) of purified honey” (Koran, XLVII, 15). In brief, the honey is fundamentalist and terrorist, together with the producers, the wholesalers and the retailers in more than forty countries around the world.
But honey is not the only food vehicle of the economic engine of terrorism. In the 1990’s, Osama bin Laden was expelled from his country, Saudi Arabia. His passport was withdrawn and his citizenship taken away and he was compelled to find refuge in Sudan, where he was invited by the integralist theologian, Hassan al-Turabi.
From Khartoum, he started a long series of economic activities, among which was a pastry bakery, but above all, he bought more than 90% of the Acacias of Senegal , the tree of the gum- arabic, thus obtaining the monopoly with more than 80% of the world production.
Since gum-arabic is a very important element, not only in pastry, but also in the industries of typographic inks and gaseous drinks, at the time, they used to say that buying a newspaper or drinking a Coca-cola meant financing Islamic terrorism. And it was true.
In Sudan, Osama Bin Laden built airports, ports and motor-ways, receiving in payment concessions or agricultural products to sell on the international market.
Bin Laden’s financial ability makes him an atypical integralist leader: he has no religious title and, consequently, should not have the moral authority to lead the jihad, but as a novel Marxist revolutionary, he has a grip on people because his proclamations speak of politics and economy. His network is based mainly on economy, deeds performed in the name of Allah have a strong economic value.
It is sufficient to take a look at the financial and stock market movements of the weeks previous to the 11th of September attack, to realize that a good number of stock brokers were unconsciously acting on behalf of the ‘Bin Laden corporation’, by purchasing and selling shares which would have generated profits from the attacks: the purchase of ten days options on crude oil, on insurances and air companies, just to mention the most important.
Tens of millions of dollars gained through a terrorist operation. Insider trading of the highest level.
Money is certainly not kept in a cave in Afghanistan, but invested in shares of the western multinationals, deposited in off-shore banks, changed into assets and into legal activities of the fundamentalist circuit. Not only: some economists maintain that shares of the most important multinational companies are in the portfolios of representatives of the Islamic fundamentalist finance. Motorola, A.T.&T, Boeing and many other arms-producing firms are, in part, owned by the “sheiks of terror”.
Terrorism or, perhaps, its maximum exponent, has been able to exploit, to the very best, the freedom of enterprise guaranteed by the capitalist system and by globalization, both for proselytism and recruiting in the most depressed and exploited areas of the great foreign capitals, and for the financial aspect tied to Wall Street and the great Stock Market.
Looking beyond the proclamations which announce the defeat of the so-called finance of terror, we are compelled to admit an alarming reality: terrorism is financed through the mechanisms of the western capitalistic economic system and it is not possible to overcome it without inflicting injury also to our own economy.
Among the financiers, there are the oil companies. For instance, Unocal, which towards the end of the 1990’s, in the operation of lobbying to guarantee the contract for the Afghan oil-duct, donated more than 25 million dollars to the Taliban and consequently, indirectly, to Mullah Omar. And Politics, which has turned a blind eye to the violation of human rights in Afghanistan, in the name of this oil-duct and its precious black liquid, has permitted the flow of billions of dollars into the wrong hands.
The fiscal paradises, the deregulation of markets, the absence of taxation on financial transactions which, even if they had been minimal, would have allowed the traceability of the operations, and hiding behind the shield of fictitious societies - all these things have favoured the growth of fundamentalism – they have increased corruption and the margins of profit for the organizations which sponsor terrorism.
In the financial analysis of terrorism, the same conclusion has been reached by many people: terrorism is a phenomenon which we shall have to face for a very long time, and the security of citizens all over the world will, inevitably imply serious reflection upon the model of its development.
(1) Author anonymous, PM edition, Milan, 2003