Indonesia: Islamic State Primarily Relying on Online Donations for Money

Man typing on a laptop computer. Science Photo Library / ABO
Science Photo Library/ABO/AFP

Sympathizers attempting to finance jihadi attacks in Indonesia are increasingly relying on online donations to provide financial support to the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), according to counter-terrorism analysts in the country.

A new joint study by Indonesia’s National Counterterrorism Agency, State Intelligence Agency, and Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Center (PPATK) found that online donations are the preferred method to finance ISIS because they are “practical, easy, and borderless,” reports the South China Morning Post (SCMP).

The flow of money, primarily consisting of donations between $100 and $1,000 via social media, is “continuous” and “tough to track,” SCMP learned from Kiagus Ahmad Badarudin, chairman of the PPATK.

Another reason why online payment services and so-called cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin have become the preferred funding method for terrorists is that they allow anonymous payments, the PPATK pointed out.

“Terror groups now call for donations through social media [and messaging platforms] such as WhatsApp groups or Twitter,” stressed Badarudin. “Bitcoin and PayPal are also used to move their money.”

The PPATK chief noted that the legitimate businesses like phone credit companies and small-time merchants are facilitating the illicit transactions.

SCMP reports:

Encrypted messaging platforms such as Telegram and WhatsApp are proving popular not only with active terror cells in Indonesia, but even with militants who are already behind bars. Authorities suspect the services are used by imprisoned terrorists, using mobile phones smuggled into their jails, to propagate their ideologies and even direct attacks from the comfort of their cells.

The newspaper argues that the Indonesian government’s crackdown on terrorism-financing operations is responsible for the increased use of online donations, which reportedly caught traction in 2015.

“Jemaah Islamiyah [JI] in particular used a network of charities to siphon funds for militant operations. Those charities fell under scrutiny by security forces and more or less dried up as a funding source,” noted Zachary Abuza, professor at the National War College, referring to the U.S.-designated jihadist organization.

“It is not a surprise that pro-Islamic State groups have turned to social media to make appeals for donations as Islamic State has such a slick and widespread presence across so many different social media platforms,” he added.

The country is cracking down on ISIS’s presence as it faces a threat from the group’s battle-hardened jihadists returning from the Middle East to Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country.

In August, a raid conducted against ISIS-affiliated terrorists revealed that they had been working on building a radioactive “dirty bomb.”

Authorities identified the terrorism suspects as members of Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), a group linked to ISIS.

SCMP notes that Indonesia law enforcement has arrested at least 160 ISIS-affiliated militants since the first attack linked to the jihadist group took place in the country in January 2016.