The head of Britain’s Charity Commission has warned the organisation’s “most deadly” problem is Islamist extremists setting up charities as cover for their activities.
In an interview with the Sunday Times, William Shawcross said: “The problem of Islamist extremism and charities… is not the most widespread problem we face in terms of abuse of charities, but is potentially the most deadly. And it is, alas, growing.”
He warned that some charities were using their status to send money to extremists in Syria, with some going as far as training young British Muslims to fight for Al Qaeda. He said that the Commission would take “tough measures” if it discovered that any charity was involved in such actions.
Although he admitted that it can be difficult to monitor the actions of groups in foreign countries, especially in war-torn Middle East states, he said that the Commission would always be “vigilant”.
“I’m sure that in places like Syria and Somalia and other places, it’s very, very difficult for agencies always to know what the end use of their aid is,” he said. “But they’ve got to be particularly vigilant.”
Mr Shawcross also called for urgent action to close a “loophole” where people convicted or terrorism offences or money laundering are still allowed to set up charities or serve as trustees.
“It is ludicrous that people with convictions for terrorist offences are not automatically disqualified from serving as charity trustees,” he said.
There have been concerns that some charities may be using humanitarian aid as a cover for funding hard line Islamist groups in Syria.
The Commission is currently investigating three charities that are suspected of raising funds for Syrian Islamists, and is monitoring seven others.