Generous Indonesians who give loose change to the poor and needy unwittingly help fund deadly terrorist attacks and jihadist training camps, in a scam that has made big money for extremist groups.
Former radical Khairul Ghazali once spent his days visiting restaurants, mini markets and supermarkets to drop off charity boxes, wearing an official-looking uniform to avoid suspicion.
Passers-by inserted crumpled coins and banknotes thinking they were helping impoverished children, orphans, or perhaps a Palestinian aid organization.
But Ghazali’s boxes were secretly owned by Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) – the notorious network behind Indonesia’s deadliest terrorist attack, the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings.
“People cannot tell the difference between these boxes and other charity boxes,” said Ghazali, 56, who now runs an Islamic boarding school and tries to de-radicalize former extremists.
“The money collected is generally used to pay for terrorism. “
With little outside funding, die-hard Islamist groups rely on the charity box scam to pay for their operations across Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, which has suffered a series of bombings. bombings in hotels and other attacks over the years.
# photo1 Police in North Sumatra said in March that they seized more than 500 boxes suspected of funding pipelines for ISIS and radicals linked to Al Qaeda.
The seizure, weeks before an IS-inspired married couple blew themselves up in a church on Good Friday, was just the tip of the iceberg.
A JI activist arrested last year admitted that a foundation linked to the notorious terrorist group operated more than 20,000 boxes nationwide, police said at the time.
– ‘Massive scale’-
There are no official figures on the number of illicit charity boxes in Indonesia, but experts believe they can be found in every city and region of the sprawling Southeast Asian archipelago.
“It’s not new, but its scale, which is now massive, is something new,” said Sidney Jones, a Jakarta-based security analyst.
Most Indonesian terrorist groups now depend “largely” on domestic funding to fund their day-to-day operations, she said.
# photo2 Terrorist groups have also raised money through donations from members and supporters, online fundraising, and money laundering through legitimate businesses, such as the many palm oil plantations in Indonesia.
“But the attacks that took place after the Bali bombing were mostly funded by charity funds,” Ghazali said.
The funds for the scam were allocated to jihadist training camps in the ultra-conservative Aceh province and to the Mujahedin in eastern Indonesia, a radical group accused of beheading four Christian farmers on the island from Sulawesi last month.
They are also used to help the families of radicals imprisoned or killed by the Indonesian counterterrorism team, and police suspect they were used to pay for jihadist trips to Syria.
This has proven to be a reliable way for extremists to fundraise under the radar with a box raising around $ 350 every six months or so, Ghazali said.
“It’s more convenient and risk-free,” he added.
“There is no chance of bloodshed like in a robbery. “
Ghazali spent five years in prison for orchestrating a bank robbery in 2010 – once a core funding source for extremist groups – that killed a security guard.
It was around this time that terrorist groups began to turn their backs on theft and other risky crimes in favor of more covert fundraising methods.
– ‘Usually dangerous’ –
Illicit boxes are usually linked to foundations backed by extremist groups or their supporters – and registered with authorities to appear legitimate.
They are required to report their income and some income usually goes to charitable causes.
But that was after the money was embezzled to fund extremist operations.
“So there are in fact orphans or poor people who are taken care of by these boxes, but it is a cover-up,” Ridlwan Habib, a terrorism expert at the University of Indonesia, told AFP.
The monetary nature of donations makes it difficult for authorities to root out shady organizations.
“This is how they can survive for years fundraising this way without being noticed,” Ghazali said.
And the success of the program means that extremists are likely to continue to manipulate the goodwill of Indonesians, who are among the most generous in the world in terms of charitable donations.
“Indonesians like to give money and they will give 2,000 or 5,000 rupees (15 to 35 cents) without thinking twice,” said Sofyan Tsauri, a former activist close to the program.
“But it can be a dangerous habit because you don’t know how the money is being used. “
Some residents of North Sumatra were shocked when police revealed that the scam had been carried out in the province this year.
“My intention is only to help others when I donate money,” said Sri Mulyani, a resident of Medan.
“I never thought it would be used for terrorism. “
© 2021 AFP