Author(s)Looney, Robert E.
KeywordsEconomics and Cost Analysis
Sociology and Law
TERRORIST FINANCIAL NETWORKS
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AbstractSince 9/11 investigations into the al-Qaeda financial network have led to several notable successes in the United Slates and Europe. Much of this achievement in the United States has resulted from strengthening the financial investigatory powers of domestic law enforcement agencies and coordinating them through the Treasury Department's new Foreign Terrorist Asset Tracking Center. In other countries, the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force, for example, is helping to coordinate the tracking of terrorist funds through the global banking system and cracking down on countries that fail to improve transparency and regulation. Financial investigators tracking al-Qaeda assets rely heavily on data and paper trails from commercial banks and financial regulators in pursuing and investigating leads. Unfortunately, these efforts have achieved little success to date in reaching the core of the al-Qaeda financial network. The problem is that many of the organization's funding mechanisms -- like its cells -- are small and inconspicuous, often using a traditional Muslim method of money exchange called "hawala." In essence, hawala is a transfer or remittance from one party to another, without use of a formal financial institution such as a bank or money exchange and is, in this sense, an "informal" transaction. There are several other common aspects to hawala. First, in most cases, hawala transactions go across international lines, such as with worker remittances to their home countries. Second, hawala usually involves more than one currency, although, again, this is not absolutely required. Third, a hawala transaction usually entails principals and intermediaries. To accommodate requests of the principals, the intermediaries usually take financial positions. Later, much as in the case of conventional banking practices, these transactions will be cleared among the units to balance their books.
Published in Middle East Policy, v10 n1, p164-167, Spring 2003.