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Editorial

Corporate Organisations and Global Terrorism Enablement 

Terrorism, banditry, militancy, inter-ethic wars, and religion extremism are increasingly assuming a more worrisome dimension globally as more countries experience the challenges of insecurity posed by terrorists and terror groups, as well as groups promoting extreme activities.

The Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP) in its Global Terrorism Index (GTI) 2023 report stated that terrorist attacks became more deadly in 2022, with average 1.7 people killed per attack in 2022 compared to 1.3 deaths per attack in 2021, making it the first increase in lethality rate in five years.

GTI, which compiles comprehensive data on key global trends and patterns in terrorism over the last decade, also stated that besides the number of deaths, there were also numerous terror-related incidents including abductions, hostages, injuries, destruction of properties, and displacement of communities.

The report further revealed that Islamic State (IS) and its affiliates, al-Shabaab, Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) and Jamaat Nusrat Al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM), were among the world’s deadliest terrorist groups in 2022. IS affiliate groups include Islamic State – Khorasan Province (ISK), Islamic State – Sinai Province (ISS) and Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), which operates in the Sahel region including Nigeria.

Terrorist organisations and allied groups often require funds to finance their activities, including purchase of arms and ammunition, and fueling their network of affiliates. Illicit mining of natural resources such as gold, diamond and crude oil, is therefore, one of the easy sources of funds they exploit as sale of these commodities can serve as a funnel to launder proceeds of illicit activities.

In addition, most terrorist groups and related organisations may exploit corporate entities by funneling money through shell companies or engaging in illegal financial transactions, thereby helping to sustain their activities. There are several examples.

In Sierra Leone, illicit diamond mining was one of the several factors that contributed to the prolonged civil war in the West African country, which lasted from 1991 to 2002. Diamond extraction played a more prominent role in financing rebel groups, particularly the Revolutionary United Front (RUF).

The rebel groups funded their activities by trading in ‘blood diamonds’ or ‘conflict diamonds’. These diamonds, often extracted illegally, were sold on the international market to purchase weapons and sustain their insurgency. Gold mining also occurred illicitly though not as prominent as the diamonds trade.

Coming home, terrorism, banditry and militancy enablement has also been recorded in Nigeria. Statistics and studies have shown that crude oil mining in the Niger Delta region accounted for the rise in militancy in the oil-rich south-south states. Continuous agitation for resource control has exacerbated the establishment of many illegal refineries and theft of both crude oil and refined products.

Zamfara State, north-west Nigeria, is another reference where illicit mining of gold deposits has been identified as a source of funding for insurgents. This has also exacerbated the spread of insecurity in the northern parts of Nigeria.

London School of Economics (LSE) Fellow, Uche Igwe, in a write up stated that illicit natural resource extraction in Nigeria fuels violence and insecurity, citing crude oil exploration in the Niger Delta region and gold in Zamfara as references. He said further that criminal networks including the locals, influential persons and foreign opportunists often provide cover for those involved in illicit mining of mineral deposits.

In recent times, there have been rising cases of corporations caught in the web of global terrorism enablement arising from questionable relationships, unethical or illicit dealings or transactions with organisations whose activities are terrorism-inclined.

Terrorist groups because they require funding for their activities, sometimes exploit corporate entities by funneling money through indirect shareholding. Corporations that are not diligent on due background check may unwittingly become involved in money laundering for terrorists.

A most recent case that comes to mind is the reports in some sections of the international media and their own public disclosures in which some technology companies, including Africa’s telecoms giant, MTN Group, were reported to be facing prosecution and trial in the United States courts for alleged business relationships with a terrorist organisation – the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). MTN Group maintains commercial ties with MTN Irancell in which IRGC has a minority 49% investment shareholding, a relationship that has been criticised as being unhealthy.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York had allowed discovery to establish that MTN and the tech companies knew the business relationships they were involved with IRGC would help finance, arm and support the Iranian terror group’s campaign in neighbouring Iraq.

The U.S. District Court had given the nod for the trial of MTN Group in connection with international terrorism financing, under the Anti-Terrorism Act. The trial of MTN Group and tech companies was sequel to a federal lawsuit filed by more than 50 Americans, who accused them of doing business with a terror organisation.

MTN Group, is also facing multiple counts of aiding-and abeiting liability under the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, civil conspiracy liability, and aiding and abeiting terrorist acts in Afghanistan.

Thousands of Americans were reportedly injured or killed between 2011 and 2016 during serial attacks on Iraq by IRGC, which was officially designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation (FTO) in 2019. MTN Group has, however, absolved itself of any wrongdoings while maintaining that its commercial ties with Irancell would continue despite global outcry.

Earlier in 2019, and quoting court papers, Bloomberg noted that another layer to the lawsuit against MTN Group was that the court cited “decades of media coverage that alerted MTN to Hezbollah’s use of cellphones as detonators and to provide key means of communication and track enemy operatives.”

For MTN, terrorism enablement is not the first time. Around 2015, its Nigeria’s subsidiary MTN Communications was brought under the spotlight in the wake of escalating security challenges across the country, linked to unregistered and improperly-registered SIM cards that largely belonged to MTN. Hence, government in a bid to curb insurgency, banditry, killings, bombings, abductions and kidnapping for ransom by Boko Haram/ISWAP and bandits imposed N1.04trn fine on the telecoms giant based on a computation formula of N200,000 per a SIM card.

Fundamentally, there are several assumptions why corporations might get involved in terrorism financing. One of the reasons is when businesss leaders are not diligent in monitoring their financial activities; they may unwittingly become involved in money laundering for terrorists.

Some corporations may be part of global supply chains that provide resources, such as weapons, technology, or even everyday supplies, that can be diverted for terrorist purposes. Weaknesses in supply chain security can allow terrorists to access these resources.

Corruption within corporate organisations can create opportunities for terrorists to gain access to critical infrastructure or resources. Bribes, kickbacks, or other unethical practices can compromise the integrity of a company and indirectly aid terrorist activities.

Sadly, terrorism enablement impacts negatively on society. Corporations, particularly those in critical infrastructure sectors, can be vulnerable to attacks by terrorist groups. This is already happening in Nigeria where telecoms infrastructure operators and managers of shared facilities have been attacked, kidnapped or abducted for ransom by Boko Haram and ISWAP insurgents. In many cases, enginners and technicians have been denied access to base stations to carry out maintenance and other services.

Weaknesses in cybersecurity measures can provide avenues for terrorist groups to disrupt operations or steal sensitive information. Terrorists may exploit technology, including social media platforms and encrypted communication tools to disseminate propaganda, recruit members, and plan attacks. Some corporations operating in the tech sector may inadvertently provide the tools or platforms used by terrorists.

Multinational corporations operating in regions with a significant terrorist presence must, therefore, ensure their operations are not inadvertently supporting terrorism. This can be especially complex in conflict zones. Terrorist groups may attempt to infiltrate corporate organisations or exploit disgruntled employees for insider information or to facilitate attacks.

Also, corporations must be conscious that day-to-day business decisions they make have a lasting impact on their image and reputation – positively or negatively. This why decision-making requires lots of think-through and risks’ assessment because of the need to preserve brand names and reputation.

It should, therefore, be of utmost importance for corporations to take steps in order to mitigate the risk of being caught in the web of terrorism enablement. Corporations need to implement robust due diligence, compliance, and risk management measures. This includes scrutinising financial transactions, securing supply chains, enhancing cybersecurity, promoting ethical business practices, and ensuring that employees are vigilant about potential threats. Collaboration with law enforcement and intelligence agencies is also essential in preventing corporate involvement in terrorism enablement.

Author: Olalere Ismail

Culled from The Guardian

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