Haroun Atallah, finance director of Islamic Relief (IR), told regulators that terrorism legislation introduced after 9/11 is hindering the work of international charities, like Islamic Relief, with donations often being blocked and bank accounts closed down. He told the meeting that rules introduced with the intention of fighting terrorism may even be increasing the risk of radicalization because of unintended consequences.
From Civil Society Finance:
“Islamic Relief has recently had its bank account closed by UBS, and is under constant scrutiny by other banks due to nervousness about counter-terrorist regulations, the charity's director of finance told an audience of international charity regulators yesterday.
“Islamic Relief… has both incoming and outgoing transactions stopped on a daily basis either temporarily or permanently, said Haroun Atallah, who is a former auditor.
“Atallah says things changed significantly for international charities after the September 11 attacks. He says for charities like Islamic Relief and others working in Gulf regions scrutiny is particularly high:
"Charities like us were put in a situation where you had to explain yourself at every juncture, way beyond what any other charity had to do."
“He says that regulations preventing the movement of funds under the guise of anti-terror methods, are also preventing relief funds reaching those who need it on the ground.
He stated that some banks were "going over the top in their reaction".
Islamic Relief, Ataullah said, was ‘black-listed’ but was given no full explanation from UBS as to why this was the case.
He told the meeting that banks now saw charities like IR as ‘higher risk’ and were acting to eliminate or mitigate the risk by stopping work with them. Ataullah emphasised that "the banks are very nervous, but I think the extent of their nervousness is driven by who is the customer".
Third Sector online adds that IR's relief efforts in some regions, such as the Persian Gulf, have had to be closed down due to the level of scrutiny experienced. It also notes Ataullah's remark that, "…introducing these rules will [not] help the war on terror. It will act, if anything, as a recruiting sergeant in that part of the world."
The revelations over the hindrance of the work of charities such as IR are worrying. Not only are there material consequences for those who are in need of aid, but the issue is concerning for the way in which Muslim charities - even large and reputable ones such as IR - are singled out and subjected to greater scrutiny and suspicion.
This is not the first time that a Muslim charity has been suspected in such a way. In 2010, Muslim Aid was the target of a smear campaign by the Daily Telegraph’s Andrew Gilligan, who claimed it had ‘paid hundreds of thousands of pounds …to two organisations allegedly linked to terrorist groups’. Muslim Aid was cleared of any wrong-doing by a Charity Commission investigation later that year. More recently, this June, the Charity Commission launched an investigation into the Masjid-al-Tawheed mosque in Leyton, east London, for “potential links to terrorist organisations”.