by Nicole Mitchell, Project Nur Program Coordinator
Dr. Amit Kumar held a discussion on October 16, 2014 on the comparison of financing networks of terrorists in the Middle East and South Asia, as part of an ongoing lecture series at the Middle East Institute that I had the pleasure of attending. The methods, motivations, and success of these financial networks were the main talking points, however there was one thing Dr. Kumar said that stood out to me. The idea that even if a high-ranking terrorist or founder of a terrorist group is killed, their financial networks remain in tact, which allow for continued terrorist activities.
My thoughts immediately went to Osama Bin Laden. As the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, it was an important mission to the United States government, and citizens alike, to bring him to justice. On May 2, 2011, President Obama informed our nation that Osama Bin Laden had been found after ten years in hiding, and killed, which was a triumph for Americans. Fast-forward to 2014 and even with Osama Bin Laden gone, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/ISIS) is waging a brutal war in the Middle East. Various governments tend to react to mass atrocities and crimes against humanity militarily by attacking the individual people/groups responsible for these acts, which is a just reaction, however not always the most effective. The key to devastating ISIS, and other terrorist groups, is through their financial network.
To understand the intricacy of these networks and why they are important to penetrate, you have to go back to 1979. It was a significant year for the Middle East in terms of the Iranian revolution and the siege of Mecca, but for the purposes of this blog, I will focus on the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. When tracing the history of the financial networks of Al-Qaeda and ISIS, it becomes apparent that they have been established since the 1980s. Dr. Kumar connected this with an anti-Soviet motivation because of the invasion. Eventually that motivation morphed into anti-US coalition sentiments with the US occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq. Those negative views and attitudes towards the U.S. involvement in the Middle East still exists today and perpetuates the cycle of terrorist funding.
My point is, that while military involvement is necessary at times, and the targeting of major players is critical, the only way to deter terrorist organizations, namely ISIS, from gaining more power and ultimately putting a halt to these groups, is to infiltrate their financial network and find a way to deteriorate it. However, even if their networks are immensely weakened, unfortunately there may always be people to supplement terrorists and their activities. At this point in time, Dawood Ibrahim and his “business” the D-Company have been known to support the Boko Haram, a terrorist group that wishes to establish Nigeria as an Islamic State. Even with the knowledge of his financial backing of terrorists, nothing has been done to stop it.
With decades long established financial networks and people continually funding terrorists, it is uncertain when ISIS will be stopped.
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