KUALA LUMPUR: Websites pleading for donations to help poor Muslim families or to support the Palestinian cause could be a front for terrorist groups raising funds.
A police expert issued this warning today and said the Internet’s relative anonymity allowed terrorist groups to solicit online donations easily from both supporters and unsuspecting donors of charitable activities.
DSP Foo Wei Min, who is with the Commercial Crime Department, said the funds were used to support families of terrorists left behind in Malaysia or for financing suicide attacks in Syria, Iraq or other parts of the world.
“They use the sympathy of others to raise funds. They say it is for charity or for poor Muslim families.
“This is how they gain public trust,” he said during a speech on “Terrorism Financing Risk: Trends and Insights from Across the Region” at the International Conference on Financial Crime and Terrorism Financing here.
Foo said the money collected was transferred via banks in “very small amounts to avoid raising the suspicions of the authorities”.
In the past, he said, police had detected Rakyat Malaysia Bersama Negara Islam and RevolusiIslam.com as websites being used as channels to raise funds.
“But there are social sites used to raise funds, too.”
In his speech, he said police believed there were a lot of Malaysians who were donating, thinking it is for a good cause, but the money was instead being used to fund attacks all over the world.
Prof Rohan Gunaratna from the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies said there were families who sent their sons to do medicine in London, but these students later turned into Islamic radicals and even volunteered for suicide attacks.
“These are not your regular people from poor families. It shows people from the middle class are also being influenced by these radical groups.”
He said the southern parts of the Philippines, in Mindanao, were being turned into centres to recruit terrorists.
“They use Telegram chats which have encrypted services, making it difficult for law enforcers to access information.”
Addressing the participants, mostly from the banking sector, Rohan said bankers should not dismiss the small amounts of money being transferred through banks.
“Terrorist do not have the money. They raise funds through different channels and send small amounts.”
A prosecutor from the United States’ Department of Justice, John Shipley, advised bankers to keep track of the small amounts of money being transferred frequently to the same bank accounts and also to look out for identity thefts.
“These are difficult transfers to trace. But if money is being sent to remote places, where terrorism acts are reported, bankers should keep track of this.”
Shipley said the DoJ had noted the increasing number of identity thefts from social media, which was making it difficult to trace the people behind the recruiting of members, raising funds and organising attacks.
He added one way for banks to combat terror financing was to have easy access to information on customers.
In the US, he said the authorities could email or fax the relevant authorities for information to check on criminal activities and credit card or other statements of the client.
“Quick access to information about an individual helps in any investigation or to keep track of the clients.”
To date, Malaysian police have detained more than 200 individuals, including 27 foreigners, for suspected links with terror groups.
Last month, Malaysian authorities revoked the passports of 68 citizens who were identified as leaving the country to join Islamic State.
The authorities believe more than 110 Malaysians have left for Syria since 2013 to join IS and 21 were confirmed to have been killed there. Eight have returned and are undergoing rehabilitation.