Funding in Place: Local Financing Trends Behind Today’s Global Terrorist Threat

Katherine Bauer, Matthew Levitt 25 Nov 2020
 

Over the last decade, the terror finance landscape has changed dramatically. The proliferation of un- or under-governed spaces has allowed terrorist organisations to exploit local populations and resources to support their operations. Together with a trend toward self-radicalised lone actors and self-financed individuals or small cells, this has led to a discernible trend toward localised terrorist financing, or funding in place. As a result, some now call into question the value of traditional tools used to counter the financing of terrorism (CFT). Such critiques typically focus on the ineffectiveness of financial sanctions against territory-controlling terrorist organisation and/or the difficulty financial institutions face in identifying and flagging terror-related transactions. However, the idea that the focus of counter-terrorist financing efforts is primarily on tracking the movement of funds through banks accounts and investigating reports of suspicious activity is false. Rather, CFT broadly includes strategic efforts to protect the integrity of the financial system from exploitation through standard-setting and diplomatic outreach; identification of emerging threats and typologies and international cooperation. Likewise, the use of financial activity by intelligence and law enforcement to track and analyse terrorist activity –so-called “financial intelligence”—extends well beyond bank-filed suspicious transaction reports.

In this study, the authors examine current trends in localised terrorist financing and the counter-terrorist financing tools available to deal with this shift away from transnational to more local financing. Specifically, how geography, ideology and a host of other practical concerns shape the manner in which terrorists raise, store and move funds. The study examines the various means terrorists use to move money, both tried and true methods, as well as emerging trends; how terrorist financing it not only a factor of cash money, but also of resourcing the materials a terrorist group requires; and the re-emergence of the abuse of charities as a CFT concern. Ultimately, they conclude that the underlying principles that have guided anti-money laundering and counter-terror finance strategies to date – such as standard-setting, information sharing and international cooperation – remain effective even in the face of these new challenges.

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This article was published as part of a special edition of the ICCT Journal, Evolutions in Counter-Terrorism, and the other articles in this edition can be found here.