Islamic State group fighters are funding their jihad with taxpayer-funded welfare benefits from European Union governments. ISIS fighters are pocketing unemployment funds, disability pensions and housing allowances and using that money to fuel violence in Iraq and Syria, USA Today reported Thursday.
"It's the critical terror financing issue of the day," said Tom Keatinge, director of the Centre for Financial Crime and Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute in London. "Security services are focusing on lone actors, small cells and inspired or directed individuals operating in European countries, and of course the issue of (Islamic State) returnees. But the eye-catching headline is that a key funder of terrorists attacks in Europe are European governments. In an increasing number of cases, people are taking money provided to them by their national governments and using it for other than what it's intended for."
It's unclear how many terrorists are taking advantage of the welfare system, but ISIS has long encouraged its European fighters to make the most of the E.U.'s social benefits. Radical Islamic cleric Anjem Choudary told followers in Septembers to sign up for a "jihadiseeker's allowance," a reference to ISIS' own instruction manual from 2015 called "How to Survive in the West: A Mujahid Guide" that urged its fighters "if you can claim extra benefits from a government, then do so."
And ISIS supporters are doing just that.
In Denmark, home to the world's most generous welfare programs, officials said this week at least 29 citizens considered too ill or disabled to work received a total of $100,000 in public pension benefits. They later joined ISIS in Syria.
"It is a huge scandal that we disburse money from the welfare fund in Denmark for people who go to Syria," said Troels Lund Poulsen, Denmark's labor minister. "Staying in a war zone and directly or indirectly taking part in military operations is not something that is in any way compatible with receiving disability benefits."
In Sweden, officials paid welfare benefits to a citizen who later moved to Raqqa, ISIS' stronghold in Syria. Michael Skråmo changed his name to Abdul Samad al Swedi and was filmed in ISIS propaganda videos with a Kalashnikov assault rifle. But while he was railing against Western culture as an ISIS jihadist, he collected $5,000 over eight months from the Swedish government.
In Belgium, terrorists who killed 162 people in Paris and Brussels were being supported through the nation's generous social welfare system. Since then, Belgium has prohibited convicted terrorists from collecting welfare while serving prison time.
In France, officials said they will no longer give welfare to the hundreds of citizens who have joined ISIS in Syria. France has the largest number of Western fighters in Iraq and Syria, amounting to roughly 2,000 terrorists, according to the Counter Extremism Project, a think tank.
The U.K. has also a welfare problem. City officials in Birmingham made headlines in December for paying almost $7,000 in housing benefits to an Islamic State fighter. Anouar Haddouchi used the money to cover the costs of traveling to Syria. Roughly 850 Brits have joined ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
In the past, the U.K. blamed Sunni Arab states for secretly funding ISIS. A 2016 report from a British parliamentary committee warned royal families in some of the Gulf states could be bankrolling ISIS, which is also known as Daesh or ISIL. A Foreign Office senior civil servant, Dan Chugg, told the committee inquiry: “It is difficult with some of these countries to know exactly what is government funding and what is not when you are dealing with royal families, wealthy princes and those kind of things. Our strategy was not to try to ascertain whose problem and whose fault it was, but to stop the funding going to Daesh."
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has also sought to link Qatar and Saudi Arabia to ISIS. He said the government had funded Hillary Clinton’s charitable foundation and terrorist activities. In an email sent on Aug. 17 2014, Clinton directed an aide to put “pressure” on Qatar and Saudi Arabia to halt funding to ISIS.
Saudi Arabia passed a law in 2014 that made it unlawful to fund ISIS.