Battle against terror finance is half-won

  • Pramit Pal Chaudhuri, Hindustan Times, New York City
  • Updated: Sep 07, 2007 01:32 IST

The fight against terrorism finance is a “half-full glass”, said a panel of counterterrorism experts in the US. However, they said international cooperation in tracking and seizing the funds of hate still required much more effort.

Speaking at the International Peace Academy's launch of the book Countering the Financing of Terrorism, Brown University's Thomas Biersteker said the good news was that after 9/11, “A new global regime has emerged” to disrupt terror money. The regime, he said, could be characterised as the "export of the US banking regulatory approach overseas."

The system was largely useful against formal financial institutions and transborder global transfers. But terrorism is increasingly funded by "petty crime", the money raised locally, and the preferred network of informal systems like the hawala market. "We may be fighting the last war," he warned on Wednesday.

The book’s other co-author, Sue Eckert, called the post-9/11 changes “impressive”. Before, there had been no coordinated global efforts against terrorism finance. UN Security Council resolution 1373 had mandated cooperation in fighting terror. Thirteen UN conventions on terrorism now exist. "The number of countries who had signed the convention on terrorism finance went from four to 158 after 9/11," she noted. The nature of compliance with the conventions had changed. “Governments used to issue one sentence compliance reports. Now they can have repeated rounds with the UN to determine if they are legally and administratively more thorough.”

However, Eric Rosand of the Center on Global Counterterrorism Cooperation questioned whether the world’s responses have kept in touch with what Al Qaeda is doing. “Many of the measures are outdated.” The entities on terrorism finance watchlists largely date back to 2002, “there are very few names.” Violations of the finance regime are increasing. The UN has to do more, he argued, to build a legal basis for fighting terrorism finance and monitor implementation. Rosand noted the UN had only 40-50 consultants on terrorism finance and a regular terrorism budget of only $20 million.

Noting terrorism finance was a “moving target”, Biersteker said this didn't mean we should “abandon the system, there is a need to supplement it”. Of the often-cited figure of $147 million in frozen terrorist assets, he admitted, only $10 million was Al Qaeda's. Much of the rest had been seized from the Taliban regime and returned to the new Afghan government. “The real benefits of the system lie in the deterrent effect it has. Not all of this is positive — Islamic charities have seen a reduction in donations. Major terrorist attacks have been made more costly and thus less likely.”

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