WASHINGTON – The Trump administration on Monday imposed sanctions on an Australia-based businessman and his gem company for helping al-Qaeda move money around the world to keep business going.
Tax officials said Ahmed Luqman Talib traded precious stones, which enabled him to “move funds internationally for al-Qaeda”. Mr Talib’s business is based in Melbourne, but operates globally, including Brazil, Colombia, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Turkey and the Persian Gulf region, the Treasury Department said in a statement.
Terrorist groups continue to use financial aid to carry out their activities, Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said in a statement. The department is still keen to disrupt these financial activities and networks, he added, and thanked us for “working with our Australian partners”.
The impact of the sanctions on Mr. Talib is unclear. The measure freezes assets he holds in the United States and prohibits American companies or individuals from doing business with him.
Tax officials did not disclose whether Mr Talib owned any assets or property in the United States. In 2010, he was a student activist in Australia who was shot dead when Israeli naval commandos killed nine activists on a ship carrying aid to Gaza.
The American action against Mr Talib was remarkable, experts said, because it showed the government was still concerned about how extremist groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State continue to creatively raise money for their operations despite the military, intelligence and law distribute pressure that has dealt a significant blow to their activity.
“It shows that al-Qaeda is still maintaining these types of networks,” said Charles Lister. the Director of the Counter Terrorism and Extremism Program at the Middle East Institute, a think tank. “Although the US did a very good job of putting the networks under pressure to the point where they are sort of a miniature version from 10 or 15 years ago.”
According to experts, Mr. Talib’s use of gems to move finances for al-Qaeda was a departure from what had become the norm in terrorist financing. This should depart from transnational funding to develop income streams in countries where they were present. Terrorism experts, however, noted the development with interest.
“Governments and the private sector have made it more difficult to move funds through formal and informal financial systems,” said Matthew Levitt, director of counter-terrorism and intelligence at the Washington Institute. “It’s interesting to see how terrorists rely on gems that are easy to move and hold value.”
Since the September 11, 2001 attacks, al Qaeda’s influence around the world has decreased. Key leaders, including Osama bin Laden, were killed. The group’s sole ideological leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, is aging, and US intelligence experts do not see him as a serious threat.
Even so, the group continues to find inventive ways to fund its business.
In August, the U.S. government seized approximately $ 2 million of bitcoin and other types of cryptocurrency from accounts that had sent or received funds for alleged funding programs for three foreign terrorist organizations, including al-Qaeda.
Other groups, like the Islamic State, have also found ways to rely on methods such as ransom hijacking, private donations and crowdsourced online fundraisers, according to a United Nations report. ISIS currently has estimated financial reserves of nearly $ 100 million, according to the UN.
“ISIS has taught us over the past few years that international terrorist financing is not the most sustainable route,” Lister said. “That was a great lesson and has definitely changed the way al-Qaeda works.”