More than 70 countries commit to combat terror financing

Posted April 26th, 2018

PARIS — 

More than 70 countries committed Thursday to bolster efforts in the fight against terrorism financing associated with the Islamic State group and al-Qaida.

Participants at an international conference in Paris vowed to improve international coordination and enhance transparency of financial flows.

In a final declaration, they agreed to "fully criminalize" terror financing through effective and proportionate sanctions "even in the absence of a link to a specific terrorist act."

The two-day event was convened by French President Emmanuel Macron to coordinate efforts to reduce the terror threat in the long-term. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde and the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and Qatar were all present.

Macron, who has returned to France from a state visit to the U.S., welcomed the decision of participants to form a coalition with the aim of choking off financing for IS and al-Qaida.

"Our enemies are mobile and innovative. They are all the time changing tactics ... they use all the modern technologies," he stressed in his closing speech. "That is why we must combat (them) with total determination."

Macron praised efforts of participants to cooperate despite their differences of approach and competing interests. Thursday's meeting included countries that have accused each other of funding terrorism, notably in the Persian Gulf.

Macron said "too many countries have nourished movements with direct or indirect links to terrorism."

There will be "no more ambiguity" regarding IS and al-Qaida, he insisted.

Experts and ministers attending the conference noted terror groups are using increasingly hard-to-track tools like prepaid cards, online wallets and crowdfunding operations.

They called for better information-sharing between intelligence services, law enforcement, financial businesses and the technology industry. They also agreed to improve the traceability of funds going to non-governmental organizations and charity associations.

Daniel Lewis, executive secretary of the intergovernmental Financial Action Task Force, said he is hoping that words would be put into action.

"When we have information — for example the U.N. list of individuals and entities financing terrorism — we need to make sure measures like asset freezing are implemented fully and quickly," Lewis told The Associated Press.

The French organizers noted that IS military defeats on the ground have not prevented the group from pursuing its terrorist activities, along with al-Qaida —especially in unstable regions of Afghanistan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Yemen, Egypt and sub-Saharan Africa.

IS has also invested in businesses and real estate to ensure its financing. IS revenues alone were estimated at $2.5 billion between 2014 and 2016, according to the French president's office.

French counterterrorism prosecutor Francois Molins told FranceInfo radio that IS uses micro-financing techniques to collect a great number of small amounts of money.

Work with the financial intelligence unit helped identify 416 people in France who have donated money to IS over the last two years, he said.

Money, he said, went to "320 collectors mostly based in Turkey and Lebanon from whom jihadis in Iraq and Syria could receive funds."

Funding to extremist groups in the Middle East once flowed freely across the region's informal money-transfer shops and in donations made in mosques when traveling clerics issued special appeals during sermons.

In recent years, the U.S. and other Western nations have encouraged Middle Eastern nations to close off such sources. However, allegations over extremist funding in part sparked a near-yearlong boycott of Qatar by four Arab states. Qatar denies funding extremists, though it has faced Western criticism about being lax in enforcing rules, as has Saudi Arabia.

Participants agreed to hold a similar conference next year in Australia.

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Jon Gambrell in Dubai contributed to this report.

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