Spanish call centers and butcher's shops fund jihad

At least 250 in country, intelligence sources tell El Pais

02 February, 20:04

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    (ANSAmed) - MADRID - There is a network of at least 250 call centers, halal butcher's shops and grocery stores in Spain funding jihadist operations in Syria and Iraq. To send donations to the Islamic State (ISIS) or the Syrian Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Al-Nusra, the network uses the 'hawala' informal money transfer system. The system avoids inspection by the authorities and moves the savings of over 150,000 Muslims, estimated at 300 million euros per year, Spanish daily El Pais quoted intelligence services as saying. The hawala circuit is based on trust between a network of family members and those from the same country to send money to other parts of the world without leaving physical traces of it.

    It is used by Syrian, Tunisian, Algerian and especially Pakistani immigrants. Investigators say that there are about 300 hawala terminals and clandestine 'offices' in Barcelona, Tarragona, Lleida, Bilbao, Santander, Valencia and Madrid used by the network to support the 'jihadist cause'.

    It is also the channel through which payments to jihadists of Spanish nationality get to Spain from camps in northern Syria. Intelligence services estimate that there are about 100 youth - mostly of Moroccan origins - that have joined ISIS, including about 15 that have been killed in suicide operations against the Syrian regime under Bashar Al-Assad. ''With a single telephone call you can send 3,000 euros to Pakistan in only a few minutes. The so-called 'hawaladares' are men who keep their promise to send the remittances,'' said Juan Carlos Galindo, expert in the prevention of money laundering and the funding of terrorism. ''The mediators are tasked with getting money where it needs to go without leaving a trace. Trust is fundamental and, if anyone ends up being stopped by the police for illicit activities, they never reveal the client's name,'' he said. With ancient origins in China, the system has spread alongside international bank circuits across the planet. Experts say that there are between 200 and 300 intermediaries in Spain, mostly in the Pakistani community in Catalonia. At the global level, the hawala system moves over 200 billion dollars per year without undergoing any sort of checks.

    The UN estimates that over 25% of bank transactions in the Middel East are not transparent. In Spain, Khalid Sheikh Mohamed (the man behind the 9/11 attacks) used several 'hawaladares' in Logroño and Barcelona, and two Pakistanis living in the Raval area of the same city - Ali Gujar and Mohammad Afzaal - were arrested for sending money to an Al-Qaeda cell that kidnapped and killed Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002. Some 18 million euros were transferred through the same call center (owned by Mohammad Choundry) in only 15 months, intelligence sources told El Pais. Both recruitment and fund raising for the Islamic State take place in Spain, and have for quite some time. On October 4, 2004, a secret dispatch from the US embassy to Madrid informed Washington that Spain was an important financial center for jihadist activities in Afghanistan and Iraq. (ANSAmed).

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