Foreign Fighters Financing

The Very Non-Halal Ways Potential Jihadists Are Funding Their Work

ISIS fighters stand guard at a checkpoint in the northern Iraq city of Mosul, June 11, 2014. Reuters

Young Europeans heading to Syria to join the self-declared Islamic State (also known as ISIS) proclaim that they are fighting for Islam against infidels of all kinds. But new investigations show that their financial dealings are less than halal. Earlier this year, Europol Director Rob Wainwright told a British Parliament committee that some 3,000 to 5,000 nationals from EU countries are in Iraq and Syria as so-called foreign fighters. According to estimates by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College London, the top European country of origin, Belgium, saw 440 Belgian residents leave for Sunni militant organizations in Iraq and Syria in 2015, a figure equal to 40 foreign fighters per million residents. Fewer Swedes total have gone to the Middle East than Belgians, but in the past three years, the number has skyrocketed.

Säkerhetspolisen, Sweden’s counterintelligence and counterespionage agency, estimates that 250 to 300 Swedish residents traveled to Iraq and Syria for terrorism purposes last year, up from around ten residents three years earlier. As in other countries, some disaffected young men (and a few women) from immigrant backgrounds seem attracted to the prospect of violence. To deal with the problem, in its most recent budget presented in September, the Swedish government gave Säkerhetspolisen an additional 225 million krona ($27 million) to monitor foreign fighters. Earlier this year, the government also proposed a new law banning so-called terrorist trips.

According to Säkerhetspolisen, jihadists traveling to Syria and Iraq often take out SMS loans or engage in sales tax fraud to finance their trips. SMS loans are a fast-growing form of lending, similar to a payday loan, for which the borrower applies using his or her mobile phone account. The money comes with large fees and the debt generally has to be paid back within one to three months. Currently, the best 30-day loan for 10,000 krona ($1,196) comes with a de facto annual interest rate of 219 percent.

ISIS fighter holds a flag and a weapon on a street in the city of Mosul, June 23, 2014.
ISIS fighter holds a flag and a weapon on a street in the city of Mosul, June 23, 2014. Reuters
That makes such loans perfect for a person who is planning to leave the country

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