US report praises GCC for progress in countering terrorism

State Department report singles out UAE for progress in curbing financing of extremists groups but says Qatar and Kuwait need to do more.
Mourners prayers over the coffins of AFP reporter Sardar Ahmad, his wife and their two children, who were among nine people killed in an attack on a Kabul hotel by Taliban gunmen on March 20. Wakil Kohsar/ AFP / March 23, 2014
Mourners prayers over the coffins of AFP reporter Sardar Ahmad, his wife and their two children, who were among nine people killed in an attack on a Kabul hotel by Taliban gunmen on March 20. Wakil Kohsar/ AFP / March 23, 2014

New York // A global terrorism report has praised GCC countries for their strong regional and international counterterrorism cooperation but said Qatar and Kuwait had not done enough to clamp down on private terrorist financing.

The US State Department study found the UAE to have made the greatest strides in cutting off illegal flows of money to extremist groups, especially in regulating the informal money transfer operators known as hawaladars.

The department singled out Kuwait and Qatar for not enforcing new terrorist financing laws during 2013, and noted that the two countries were major sources of funding for Sunni extremist groups in Syria.

“Despite a strong legal framework, judicial enforcement and effective implementation … are lacking,” the report said. “Qatar’s lack of outreach and enforcement activities to ensure terrorist financing-related transactions are not occurring and the lack of referrals by the financial intelligence unit of cases are significant gaps.”

The annual report said no designations of terrorist fund-raisers were made by Qatari authorities in 2013 and only one suspicious transaction was reported to the public prosecutor as of November.

Kuwait was praised for drafting a new antiterrorism funding law in consultation with the International Monetary Fund that forces banks to report suspicious transactions, and allows the government to freeze assets and prosecute fund-raisers. But “multiple agencies have jurisdiction, and inadequate legislation made prosecution … a challenge,” the report said.

The UAE was praised for its cooperation with the US over financial law enforcement. New regulations that made hawaladar registration mandatory were issued by the UAE Central Bank last year.

This “represents a significant step towards improved oversight … although concerns remain about the CBUAE’s capacity to supervise the vast number of hawalas in the country”, the report stated.

All GCC member states were praised for strengthening regional and international counterterrorism cooperation, and for closely working with their US counterparts.

“Leveraging these partnerships is vital to the success of our counterterrorism efforts,” said Tina Kaidanow, the State Department’s ambassador-at-large and coordinator for counterterrorism. “Regional assistance from the Gulf Cooperation Council states, as well as strong bilateral assistance by the United States, has been essential in helping the government of Yemen in its efforts to roll back Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.”

Ms Kaidanow also cited the Abu Dhabi-based Hedayah, a centre of excellence for countering violent extremism, as an important regional initiative, as well as the US customs pre-screening facility at Abu Dhabi airport.

The US president Barack Obama said last year that while the core Al Qaeda based in Pakistan’s tribal areas is “on the path to defeat”, offshoots and like-minded groups have multiplied in unstable countries in the region and Africa. He said counterterrorism partnerships would therefore be a central aspect of US strategy.

The state department report, “highlights the strong counterterrorism relationship between the US and Gulf states”, said Becca Wasser, a Gulf analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Washington. “By publicly recognising positive momentum in US-Gulf counterterrorism cooperation, [the Department of] State is seeking to promote enhanced efforts to address threats in and emanating from the Gulf.”

Those threats in the region grew significantly, by 43 per cent, between 2012 and 2013, according to data in the report. Syria’s bloody civil war, growing violence and destabilisation in Iraq and continuing insurgency and terrorism in Pakistan and Afghanistan, contributed the greatest to the upsurge, according to the report.

A large amount of the terrorism was sectarian in nature, particularly in Syria, Pakistan and Lebanon, which the report called a “worrisome trend”.

The most lethal attacks last year were carried out by the Afghan Taliban, followed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, whose capacity for violence increased over the previous year. ISIL killed 1,725 people last year, up from 892 in 2012. The Afghan Taliban killed 2,340 civilians.

Of the 9,707 terrorist attacks globally in 2013, which killed more than 17,800 and injured 32,500 more, most occurred in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan, India, Nigeria, Somalia, Thailand and the Philippines, the report found.

The decentralisation of core Al Qaeda and the proliferation of even more aggressive extremist groups across the region – particularly in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, the Maghreb and Somalia – who are financially independent, spurred a spike in crime, especially kidnapping for ransom and extortion.

In addition to the proliferation of Al Qaeda affiliates and similar groups, the report highlighted Iran as a major state sponsor of terrorism, a US designation it has held since 1984, that provides assistance to a number of extremist organisations, most prominently Hizbollah.

The report said 2013 saw a “resurgence” of terrorist activity by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Qods Force, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, and Hizbollah.

Iranian vessels were caught attempting to smuggle guns and explosives into Bahrain, “likely destined for armed Shia opposition groups” as well as to Houthi separatists in Yemen.

In Israel, “price tag” attacks by Jewish settlers against Christian and Muslim Palestinians had expanded from the West Bank into Israel proper.

tkhan@thenational.ae

Published: May 1, 2014 04:00 AM

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