National Security / Politics

Want to Weaken Terrorist Groups? Go After Their Bank Accounts.

Terrorist groups use a variety of different methods for funding. Many of them, including Al Qaeda and Al- Shebab, heavily rely on donations and money laundering in order to support their operations. The Islamic State is no exception. While it takes advantage of other funding opportunities, including black market crude oil sales and looting, both IS and Al-Qaeda continue to receive millions in donations from donors across the Gulf Region.

But how exactly do those donations go from donors to the terrorist groups themselves?

The weak financial laws in Middle Eastern states allow for donors from across the gulf region to funnel money to radical groups. They will often use charities to launder money from donors which is then given directly to terrorist organizations. While it is difficult to track the exact amount of money being laundered, analysts believe it is in the billions. Al-Qaeda takes the most advantage of these methods.

Middle Eastern states have begun to tighten up their financial regulations in order to stop these massive donations. Most recently, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have cracked down on both the charities and donors.

But two Middle Eastern states, Qatar and Kuwait, have not done anything to combat these foreign funding mechanisms. As a result, billions of dollars have been funneled through these states and into the hands of terrorists. Additionally, many of the donors are Kuwaiti and Qatari citizens, and while the countries are aware of these donors, they rarely make arrests in relation to the money laundering because of the domestic support for these terror groups. Additionally, the monarchs of Qatar and Kuwait fear that any moves to regulate the financial market may be seen as western intervention.

But both Kuwait and Qatar are major U.S. allies. These states have made numerous pledges to help fight the war on terror. Qatar is home to U.S. Central Command, and both countries benefit from U.S. arms sales and trade. Both Qatar and Kuwait are considered major players in fighting ISIS and other terrorist organizations in the region.

It is crucial that America attempt to constrain funding sources for these terror groups. Therefore, we must ensure that both Qatar and Kuwait adopt strict financial rules. But the U.S. has already expressed disdain with Qatar and Kuwait over their financial laws. David Cohen, Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence at the Treasury Department, claimed that both Qatar and Kuwait are still “permissive jurisdictions for terrorist financing.”

America, along with its NATO allies must provide an ultimatum to both Qatar and Kuwait to either create stricter financial oversight over terrorist financing, with U.S. assistance, or face financial sanctions.

Sanctions would force these states to comply or face steep economic decline. The U.S. exports $3 billion more than we import from Qatar, it is a major consumer of Kuwaiti oil. Sanctions would impact Kuwaiti oil exports and harm their economy. The decrease in oil imports would benefit U.S. oil producers.

While the U.S. is divided on placing troops on the ground, sanctioning states that permit terrorist financing is a fairly simple solution to constraining terrorist groups. While some officials may feel that sanctions may harm U.S. stature in the Middle East and our relationship with Qatar and Kuwait, it is important that American allies fully support the war on terror. And constraining terrorist groups in any way possible will only help the U.S. reach that goal without sacrificing a single American life.