Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Cut-price terrorists defeating EU controls

In the wake of the Madrid and London bombings, the EU commission was quick to call for more powers, offering a comprehensive Counter-terrorism package in September last year.

A centrepiece of this package was an extension of the controls on money laundering, but a new report now indicates that the vast apparatus of financial controls is of little avail. Terrorists, it seems are using cut-price techniques which will evade the contol systems.

This finding, recorded by Reuters, is focused on the London bombing which, according to the report, cost no more than several hundred pounds to carry out. Economist Loretta Napoleoni, an expert on financing terrorism, then told the BBC world service the cost fitted a bigger pattern.

"If you look at 9/11, which cost only 500,000 dollars to execute, and then you look at all the subsequent attacks that have taken place - going from Bali to Istanbul to Madrid to London - we actually see that the cost of the attacks is decreasing," she said.

The Madrid bomb attacks in March 2004 killed 191 people and wounded some 1,900 when bombs went off on four packed commuter trains. Investigators at the time said Islamist militants recruited common criminals and used money raised from selling drugs to fund the bombings. EU officials estimated they cost less than €10,000.

Douglas Greenburg, who studied the financing of the US attacks as part of the 9/11 commission, argues that the relatively low cost made it harder for banks to spot any financial irregularity. "If you have someone who is working and depositing their pay cheques into the bank, and periodically withdrawing money and at night buying components for a bomb, constructing a bomb in their basement, what's the bank going to do about that?" he asks.

Needless to say though, the EU will maintain its regime of increasingly severe controls, which are making it progressively more difficult for ordinary people to open bank accounts and conduct other financial transactions. Given the opportunity of capitalising on yet another "beneficial crisis", there is no way that the EU is going to let a minor thing – like the fact that its controls are completely useless – restrain it from making new laws.

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