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  • Writer's pictureDaniela Žuvela

Episode 60. How Terrorist Groups are Funded

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Causing international chaos has never been cheaper or easier, with terrorist groups able to gather funding and recruits from across the world. The question is through, why can’t we just cut off these groups from their funding? How are they able to use the banking systems to take donations, and the West seems unable to prevent it? We ask our expert panel how these groups are funded and what can be done to weaken them?



John Coyne

  • Head of the Northern Australia Strategic Policy Centre and Head of Strategic Policing and Law Enforcement at Australia’s Strategic Policy Institute.

  • Specialist in transnational organised crime, national security, and counterterrorism.

Mick Mulroy

  • Co-founder of Lobo Institute, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for the Middle East, ABC News National Security analyst, Middle East Institute Senior Fellow, and retired CIA Paramilitary Operations Officer and U.S. Marine.

Matthew Levitt

  • Senior Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Police and Director of the Reinhard Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence.

  • Specialist in international terrorism, with a focus on Middle East terrorist groups, particularly regarding their logistical and financial support networks.


Part 1: Cash for Conflict (2:59)

  • Coyne talks us through the link between organised crime groups and terrorist organisations. For instance, terrorist organisations ranging from Jemaah Islamiyah who operate in Indonesia, to the Abu Sayyaf Group in the Philippines who are becoming increasingly integrated with organised crime groups have diverse mechanisms for attracting funds.

  • We look at how banks track these suspicious transactions in all their various forms. In Coyne’s view, a strengthened financial sector is critical to countering terrorist financing. He advocates for a combination of a process called “de-banking” alongside proactive collaboration with financial institutions to enhance the effectiveness of hard counterterrorism and anti-money laundering legislations.

  • We finally consider the consequences of state-based actors financing terrorist organisations, how the law differentiates between financing terrorist organisations and political groups, plus the issues with counterterrorism and anti-money laundering legislation in western liberal democratic societies.


Part 2: A Revolution in a Suitcase (31:14)

  • Mulroy helps us understand how terrorist operations have evolved to become far cheaper and what this means for counterterrorist policies.

  • We look at the enhanced public-private partnership following the September 11 attacks contrasted to the current state of weakness in various financial institutions which is having large-scale consequences.

  • Mulroy then discusses how many terrorist organisations are using natural resources to finance themselves and the ways in which the international community can respond.

  • We look at a few effective counterinsurgency and counterterrorism campaigns such as the “sons of Iraq” and whether similar operations should be considered by the U.S. Department of Defence.

  • Finally, with state-to-state tensions increasing once again, we discuss whether we will see a return to widespread state-sponsored terrorism. Is this the new Cold War?


Part 3: Purchasing Plausible Deniability (50:31)

  • Having thoroughly explored the various ways in which different terrorist organisations fund themselves and their operations, what we have come to understand is that chaos has never been cheaper and easier to create. So, is there a way of combating this? Is there something governments could do to slow the tide down? For that, we turn to Levitt.

  • Levitt takes us through the specific tactics and capabilities of various big states, small states, and financial institutions for tracking illicit financing.

  • Next, we discuss how it’s possible to ascertain how much money terrorist organisations actually have, and secondly, how state-based actors who allegedly support terrorist organisations deliver money to their proxies. Levitt has considerable knowledge and expertise on Iran’s relationship with Hezbollah. So, he takes us through the mechanics behind the sophisticated illicit finance transfers between Iran and Hezbollah, such as through the oil industry and so on.

  • Levitt then re-conceptualises how we should consider terrorist. In his view, we need to go beyond thinking in purely monetary terms and instead consider various forms of resourcing. For example, trade based money laundering more broadly, weapons procurement, and the purchasing of food or other products for local groups to either consume, sell, or use to gain support within their communities.

  • Finally, Levitt calls for more nation-states to adopt the US model of building national capabilities of leveraging intelligence across the public and private sector to constrict the operating environment for illicit actors to engage in various nefarious activities across the financial spectrum.


The Red Line's Reading List:

We’ve compiled a list of further reading should you be interested in delving deeper into the world of terrorist financing.


Hezbollah - The Global Footprint of Lebanon’s Party of God

Matthew Levitt

The Terror Years: From Al-Qaeda to the Islamic State

Lawrence Wright

Terrorism, Inc.

Colin P. Clarke


For episode transcripts, monthly geopolitics Q&A’s, member-only videos and to support the show, check out our Patreon here:

This episode is dedicated to Patreon members Robison Barnes and Jason Hutchinson


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