No sooner had 26 nations wrapped up a meeting in Indonesia on countering terror financing than a spate of bombs exploded in Thailand, underscoring the difficulties the authorities face in ending a scourge widely blamed on Islamic militancy.
One of the major fronts in countering terrorism lies in financing, an issue countries at the 2016 Counter-Terrorism Financing Summit are pledging to cooperate on. This includes legitimate self-funding; at-risk non-profit organizations; fundraising through social media and crowd sourcing; and criminal activity.
“There needs to be a rule that charities are not misusing donations, including channeling funds for terrorism,” Muhammad Yusuf, chairman of Indonesian Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Center, told reporters at the end of the meeting, which occurred in Bali.
Before Friday’s bombings of Thai tourist districts, which left several dead, the region had been put on a heightened terrorist alert after a plot to launch a rocket attack on Singapore was foiled by the authorities.
This follows warnings that the Abu Sayyaf in the Southern Philippines has expanded into Malaysia and mercenaries from regional countries which are fighting with the Daesh in Syria and Iraq, are returning with orders from Islamic State (IS) to carry out attacks on home soil.
Co-hosts Indonesia and Australia produced a 48-page document published at the meeting, titled the Terrorism Financing Regional Risk Assessment 2016 report, outlining those four major risks which found terrorists were likely adapting and changing as their main financing methods.
It said stored value cards were common while traveling with cards loaded with cash through non-reportable electronic methods and are then easily carried into another country where they are not subject to any reporting requirements.
Funds are redeemed through ATMs restricted only by daily limits on how much cash can be withdrawn. Cards are then reloaded remotely by third parties with the face value of some cards often understating their true value.
Crypto-currencies like Bitcoin are also a concern.
The report said Indonesia continued to face a high threat of terrorism because of its exposure to IS militants. It found about 258 Indonesians were involved in conflicts in Syria and Iraq and 183 are believed to have returned home.
Malaysia was facing an elevated risk of terrorism because of threats posed by IS, among other foreign terrorist groups, with an estimated 73 Malaysians also linking-up with extremist groups in Syria and Iraq where at least 19 nationals have been killed.
“Malaysia continues to be a transit country for recruits for terrorist groups active in other countries,” the report said. “Thailand’s porous national borders increase its exposure to illegal movement of weapons, people, cash and goods of exchange.”
More than 200 Australians have also traveled to the Middle East to join in the conflict.
It added that kidnapping for ransom remains a chief source of income for the Abu Sayyaf. In Indonesia, militants favored armed robbery to raise funds while in Thailand insurgents from the south preferred extortion, car theft and smuggling oil.
The conference heard much of the money used by terror groups in Indonesia comes from several countries abroad, including Australia and Middle Eastern countries.
It was also told that attacks on Bali in 2002 that killed 202 people, and in 2005 that left another 20 dead, were the result of Jemaah Islamiyah members training in Afghanistan in the 1990s.
“The government does not want this to recur with the return of Indonesians from Iraq and Syria,” said Indonesia’s National Counter-Terrorism Agency chief, Suhardi Alius.
Eleven active designated terrorist groups were identified in the report, which helped convince Malaysia and Indonesia to agree to a systematic exchange of biometric information like fingerprints on known militants.
Luke Hunt can be followed on Twitter @lukeanthonyhunt