Opinion: Hot issue - Does the sector need anti-terrorism measures?

The Home Office is consulting on proposals that it says are necessary to prevent terrorist organisations from using charities as cover for their activities. Some have questioned the need for special regulation for charities.


Interpal was branded a terrorist organisation by the United States in 2003 - no investigation, no opportunity to respond, just political accusations. Bush seized our non-existent assets in the US.

The Charity Commission investigated us; the Inland Revenue did too. We have a clean bill of health. The guidelines here say that if there are irregularities, commission staff will guide a charity to ensure it works within the law. The US approach is infantile - it closes charities without evidence (the US couldn't supply information about Interpal when asked by the Charity Commission) and there is no chance of a day in court.

Loretta Napoleoni, author of The New Economy Of Terror, estimates the "terrorist/criminal" economy to be worth $3 trillion (£1.7 trillion) a year, mostly channelled through legitimate businesses. Tackle that and the world economy will collapse. So the US, Israel and others go after charities such as Interpal, which distributes an average of $6m a year (for five million refugees - work out the significance yourself), so they can claim to be doing something "against terrorism".

English law governing charities is adequate to weed out illegal operators - foreign governments should stop interfering.


The use of charities for any purposes connected with terrorism is clearly unacceptable and we should support any reasonable and proportionate steps that can be taken to combat this where it exists.

Greater awareness within the sector, as well as better collaboration, liaison and exchange of information between law enforcement agencies and the relevant regulators working together can only help ensure that charities are not exploited in this way. This will also ensure that the confidence of the public, supporters and donors in charities is maintained.

As the charity regulator, the Charity Commission has a particular responsibility to make sure any vulnerability to exploitation of the sector is identified and that we focus our regulatory activity on areas of potential misuse.

But it's important our actions are measured, proportionate to the issues involved and fully respect the sensitivities and interests of beneficiaries and those who rely on charities and their vital work.


Increasing the regulation of charities to control terrorist financing will achieve little. The methodologies for terrorist financing are complex and are constantly evolving to adapt to the legislation.

The shifting financing tactics go hand-in-hand with the evolution of international terrorist networks. Terrorist groups have moved from centrally co-ordinated networks to unconnected home-grown cells, making it unnecessary to launder large amounts of money to carry out attacks.

The vehicles through which dirty money can be made to look clean are many, and using front charities to fund terrorism is only one part of the problem. Financial support can come from companies set up as a front for such activities, couriers who smuggle money across borders, diverted aid money or the exploitation of informal, cash-based money exchanging venues.

Even if one recognises the role that charities play in financing the jihad, and the fact that zakat - the pillar of Islam that asks Muslims to donate 2.5 per cent of their income to charity - means that donations raise little suspicion, one must also ask how increased regulation of the British charity sector will manage any audit trails beyond the UK, given that most funds for terrorist financing still come from the Gulf states.


Anti-terrorism measures should place the sector at the forefront of work to combat terrorism, but as a major ally, not a potential suspect. The sector can play a major role in countering terrorism, working in close partnership with the Government.

The work of many of our members in building community cohesion and creating dialogue is essential in developing an informed strategy for preventing terrorism. Take, for example, Changemakers' Y Speak programme, which brought a group of Asian girls from Bolton to meet ministers and discuss the issues surrounding terrorism and discrimination.

Further, since terrorism is a global problem, the third sector's strategy must also be global. Initiatives such as Acevo's international programme bring together third sector leaders worldwide, building global networks that could take on a major role in promoting cross-border collaboration.

Of course, the Charity Commission must clamp down on any potential financial abuse, but this should be proportionate to the risks involved. It would be a tragedy if new levels of bureaucracy prevented the sector responding rapidly to terrorism, as it did last year through the London Bombings Relief Fund.

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