The recent US Congressional investigations, led and chaired by Senator Carl Levin, into banking mismanagement and financial crimes have shown a number of important issues dealing with national and international security have failed to have been addressed since the global effort to stop terrorism since September 11th 2001.
London, Islamabad and Riyadh the main capital cities which are still allowing the global menace of Islamist terrorism to continue unabated. The US and the rest of the world should work together bring the problem to rest. Al-Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba and other similar groups which have had state support need to be sanctioned. The countries which allow their operations, and promote them as proxy actors in strategic plans should also be sanctioned.
Major British banks, with international reputations, HSBC and Standard Chartered have come under scrutiny by US investigators for allowing major transactions between suspected terrorist financiers and rogue states. Standard Chartered is believed to have created a rogue banking unit to deal with Iran and helping it skirt around US and UN sanctions. HSBC is believed to have allowed transactions between the Social Islami Bank and the Islami Bank Bangladesh Limited (IBBL) and the al-Rahji Banking Corporation, an entity which was flagged as being a Taliban and al-Qaeda supporter in 2001.
The US investigations showed how al-Rahji’s activities had been flagged many times by the HSBC’s own Financial Intelligence Unit, but the bank had persisted in keeping the accounts open. Financial Intelligence Unit’s are a major part of international banking. They are designed for banks with high risk customers to check their activities. They are often assisted with the help of treasury and security officials from intelligence agencies. That is how they are designed to function. HSBC allowed the bank to have accounts even when there were reports that terrorists in Bangladesh were using the IBBL to finance their activities and IBBL staff were helping to facilitate suspicious transactions. London has been called Londonistan by counter-terrorism officials throughout the world for the last 20 years. The French originally coined the phrase because UK security officials used to brush off investigations into suspected terrorists plotting attacks on French interests from safe havens within the UK. They didn’t care.
After 9/11 the British policy of ‘looking the other way’ was meant to change, but it still took till 2005 for British authorities to begin to look at the problem. The UK government under Tony Blair was forced into taking a more sensible stance towards its engagement with the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) because of an effort by British journalists to show the MCB’s ties to Jamaat-i-Islami. I was also involved in this effort. Jamaat-i-Islami is a radical political movement based in South Asia which has fascist tendencies, but has strong support in the UK through a various guise of NGO’s and charities. They have also been accused of helping al-Qaeda and other groups. The British state has even been accused of financing Jamaat politicians in Pakistan.
The banking scandal involving Islamist politics and the UK is not surprising. The fact that the US has launched an investigation and launched a public inquiry is surprising. The activities of Suleiman Abdul Aziz Al-Rahji, is a Saudi national and major political player in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia are well known within the international security arena, but probably not within the banking sector. The US investigations are merging two arenas which should have been working together on these important international issues from the beginning. There has been poor oversight in the global effort against terrorism, but since 2010 the US is beginning to get a real grip when the Bush administration had failed to tackle al-Qaeda’s sponsors, but had instead decided to invade countries which nothing to do with Islamist terrorism.
Al-Rahji is believed to be one of the world’s top supporters of Islamic politics and also has a major sideline in providing a cash flow to jihadi movements. Al-Rahji was named as one of the main financiers of Osama bin Laden’s fledgling Al-Qaeda movement in a document seized by counter-terrorism agents. Al-Rahji was also named as defendant in the 9/11 Families United to Bankrupt Terrorism lawsuit, a major lawsuit designed to cripple terrorist finances.
Bangladesh’s counter terrorism strategies have provided a breath of fresh air and are being widely applauded in the United States, and even begrudgingly in parts of London. They, unlike Pakistan, have decided that keeping Islamist actors as regional proxy fighters is not conducive to regional or national stability. Bangladesh’s authorities are aware of the networks and relationships which have sustained unrest between Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and the rest of South Asia. Al-Rahji being just one of many players involved in the process.
Bangladeshi authorities have done well in combating the threat without causing too much upheaval. Islamist politics and Islamist banking in Bangladesh has been a mainly foreign import. IBBL’s major shareholders are foreign Islamic banks. Jamaat-i-Islami influence in IBBL isn’t surprising. The international backers of IBBL and Jamaat are the same. The IBBL was designed not just to be a bank, but as a major catalyst in importing Islamist politics into Bangladesh and supporting Islamist politics within the diasporic community.
If the three capital cities: London, Islamabad and Riyadh, are allowed to keep supporting or turning a blind eye to international terrorists the rest of the world will suffer. The US and Bangladesh have begun to address the problem head on. Their effort should be applauded.