Syria crisis: Terror groups being funded by car thefts and scams in the UK

'We have a number of live investigations and cases awaiting trial that have terrorist financing links'

Terror groups operating in Iraq and Syria are being funded by a “complex money-laundering scheme” which involves cash from telephone banking scams operating in southern England and cars imported to Africa from the UK, a report into terror funding claims.

The report from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) – established by G7 countries to tackle money laundering – details an issue raised by a member of the Eastern and Southern Africa Anti-Money Laundering Group: used car dealerships importing cars from Britain and other countries as “part of a complex money-laundering scheme, which was then funnelled to terrorist groups.”

Detective Chief Superintendent Terri Nicholson, head of operations in the Met’s Counter-Terrorism Command, said: “We have a number of live investigations and cases awaiting trial that have terrorist financing links.”

It also details a case study provided by UK authorities in which people pose as police or bank staff in a scam where they are “informed their account(s) have been compromised in some way”. The victims are persuaded to “transfer money into accounts controlled by the suspects or to withdraw the cash. A courier from the criminal network is dispatched to the victim’s home address and picks up the cash.” 

The money from this fraud is then sent to groups in Syria and Iraq, in small amounts to evade checks. People in Devon, Cornwall, Dorset, Kent and Bedfordshire have been targeted by a London-based network. In May Westminster magistrates’ court heard how pensioners – one aged 96 – were conned out of tens of thousands of pounds with the money sent to fund terror in Syria. One 73-year-old woman lost her £130,000 savings in the scam. Five men, collectively known as the “bank of terror” were charged with the crime.

The report also says that foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) “returning from conflict zones also need access to funds”, and adds: “many returning FTFs will request embassy assistance to travel back to their home country, often due to a lack of documentation.” 

Although the report doesn’t go into detail it is likely they pose as stranded travellers, with Turkey being a major staging post. People presenting at embassies for help under false pretences is a risk the Government is aware of, an official told The Independent.

Professor Anthony Glees, director of the Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies at University of Buckingham, said: “This could be an important means of identifying foreign fighters, particularly, one would assume, those who have made it back to Turkey, which would appear to be the obvious staging post here,” he added. 

“It would be safe to assume, therefore, that Turkey is going to become an increasingly interesting target for our intelligence community, along with other North Africa Arab states which are stable enough to allow our embassies and consulates to function.”

A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “Diplomatic staff overseas liaise with law enforcement partners, both in the UK and abroad, in order to ensure that any risk that an individual may pose can be mitigated.”