South Africa: jihadism transit point for funding

Jihadist have not attack South Africa before. Its democracy is strong and its economy is stable. However, it is seen as a bastion of funding for the Islamic State (IS) and other Islamic organizations. The continent’s most developed country was the first to be singled out by the US.

In 2022 the US sanctioned South African companies and citizens suspected of facilitating money transfers for the benefit of ISIS , including their Africa affiliate has become since losing its caliphate between Iraq and Syria in 2019.

Hans-Jakob Schindler, director of the Counter-Extremism Project (CEP) think tank, said: “There has not been enough vigilance over the past 20 years because South Africa has not been affected by terrorism problems at all. . “the US said something is wrong in your country,” added the former UN expert. “The whole government is working now.”

In March, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a Paris-based anti-money laundering organization, placed South Africa on a “gray list” of countries that lack rigor in the fight against financial inclusion and give support illegal activities.

Jasmine Opperman, a South African counter-terrorism expert, laments: “It is now internationally accepted that we are a hub. She believes that “South Africa is a hunting ground for money transfers into the hands of terrorists”, and alluded to the role of fighters sympathetic to Al-Qaeda, Palestinian Hamas or pro-Iranian Hezbollah.

Martin Ewi, coordinator of the crime watchdog of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in Pretoria, confirmed that “a number of incidents have given the sad impression that South Africa is a hub for terrorism financing. dad”.

Fund increase

This phenomenon is particularly relevant to the democratic nature of the country and the banking system that is both highly developed and open enough to allow all kinds of covert activities. This perception comes at a time when EI, like al-Qaeda, has made Africa the central axis of development. Groups pledging allegiance to him are now spreading to Somalia and the Sahel, around Lake Chad and Mozambique, as well as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

“Over the past five years, Africa has become increasingly important” to the group, Hans-Jakob Schindler noted.

Ryan Cummings, an analyst with Cape Town-based private consultancy Signal Risk, says South Africa’s role in popularizing EI goes back more than a decade. He cited reports that Al-Shabaab in Somalia moved money there after the attacks on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi in 2013.

“Clearly, given the rise of IS and its direct presence in Mozambique,” Ryan Cummings points out the argument for “an increase in funds coming from South Africa to Mozambique and groups on the continent. Africa, especially the subsidiary of EI in DRC” appeared.

It’s an explosive combination: a well-functioning financial system, a large and active Muslim community, a democracy with lax borders, rampant corruption and established criminal organizations. .

57,000 SIM cards

The target was “South Africa’s well-known extremists who have been active for several years. They benefit from open financial structures,” said Tore Hamming, of the International Research Center for Radicalization in China. London, summary. The money comes from a range of activities, from trafficking in drugs and precious minerals to taking hostages and extorting money through fake profiles on the dating app Tinder.

South African police statistics show that the number of kidnappings doubled (4,000) between July and September 2022, compared to the previous three months. According to the US Treasury Department, front companies operating in the gem, gold and construction sectors are also involved.

Money flows through countless transfers that are too small to attract attention. According to an investigation by the weekly Sunday Times of South Africa, money equivalent to more than 315 million euros has left South Africa for Kenya, Somalia, Nigeria and Bangladesh, through about 57,000 unregistered Sim cards, between 2020 and year 2021. A process that none of the most capable secret services in the world can detect. Other funds go through the hawala system, an informal trust-based payment method that’s even more complicated to track than wire transfers.

Reopen old files

The extent of the money earmarked for the jihadists is unknown, as is the logic of their distribution within the groups’ regional subsidiaries. But there’s no shortage of money: jihadist groups “earn more than they need,” says Hans-Jakob Schindler ”We could not believe for a second that a business or economic activity in a area they controlled could continue to operate without paying them. It never happened.”

Internal IS documents seen by Tore Hamming show that half of the money it collected in Somalia was kept. A quarter went to the organization’s headquarters, the other quarter was divided between Mozambique and the DRC.

One of the South African suspects identified by Washington is Farhad Hoomer, 47, based in Durban. In 2022, he was sanctioned by the US Treasury Department for “playing an increasingly important role in facilitating money transfers from superiors to branches across Africa”.

He denies working for IE. He expressed his “surprise”, saying he “didn’t know” where the sanctions were coming from. “I’ve been waiting for proof for a year.” Arrested in 2018, he was charged with preparing to place an incendiary device near mosques and shops before all charges were dropped.

The financial system is been clean up and certain files reopened, Martin Ewi, who works closely with the government, points out that a number of individuals are being investigated for offenses starting in 2017-2018. “ Government approach is very proactive.

Several pieces of legislation were hastily passed by parliament, including one on money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism, signed into law by President Cyril Ramaphosa just before Christmas.


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