British charities could be inadvertently helping fund ISIS, the head of the Charity Commission has warned. William Shawcross says there is a risk that groups distributing money and supplies donated by the British public could be exploited by extremists to help them fund themselves.
The Commission has now launched full-scale investigations into four charities operating in the war-torn region, including the one that employed murdered hostage Alan Henning.
Shawcross told the Sunday Telegraph: “It is absolutely terrifying to see these young British men going out to be trained in Syria and coming back here.
“Most of them are not going out under the auspices of charities but, when that happens, it is absolutely our duty to come down on it.
“Even if extremist and terrorist abuse is rare, which it is, when it happens it does huge damage to public trust in charities. That’s why I take it very seriously.”
He added that it is “often very difficult” to ensure that aid sent to war zones does not end up in the wrong hands.
He said: “Of course there is a risk. If we find any evidence of it happening through charities we will pursue it robustly in conjunction with the police and other law enforcement agencies.”
Shawcross also expressed his concern that the large number of small charities set up since the start of the conflict could be especially vulnerable: “I think there are 500 British charities that say they operate in Syria in one form or another and 200 of them have been registered since the conflict there began.
“Some of them are inexperienced and obviously more vulnerable to exploitation than bigger more established charities, the household names.”
The four charities currently under investigation are Al-Fatiha Global, for which Allan Henning worked when he was kidnapped, Children in Deen, Aid Convoy and Syria Aid.
The investigation into Henning’s charity began after one of its leaders was photographed with his arms around two masked fighters with machine guns.
The Commission is currently working with the governments of Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to help them improve their own systems for regulating charities, amid fears that organisations based in those countries are operating with impunity in funding terror.
The United States warned last month that Kuwait and Qatar remain “permissive” in allowing terrorist financiers to operation within their territory, with analysts warning that millions of dollars of charitable donations could be used to buy weapons and supplies for ISIS.
It also emerged this weekend that the cousin of Qatar’s foreign minister has been found guilty in Lebanon of funding terrorism. Abdulaziz bin Khalifa al-Attiya was convicted in absentia of helping fund Al Qaeda.
Meanwhile British foreign office minister Baroness Anelay said that the UK was holding “robust” talks Qatar over terror financing, saying they needed to make “much greater progress”. She added that Islamic State gets most of its money from oil, hostage ransoms and extortions, as well as foreign donations.
Last week, Prime Minister David Cameron met with the Emir of Qatar in London to discuss the issue. He is reported to have raised the issue during a formal lunch, also attended by Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, national security adviser Sir Kin Darroch and the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Ed Llewellyn.