Worrying report of terrorist groups gaining financial muscle in Uganda

Saturday September 22 2018

Suspects who were arrested after the July 11,

Suspects who were arrested after the July 11, 2010, twin bombings by Al Shabaab in Kampala that claimed 90 lives, leave a prison bus at the Uganda High Court. PHOTO | NMG 

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Findings contained in Uganda’s final National Risk Assessment report of increased capacity among terrorist organisations to execute bigger attacks are a worrying sign.

It also catalogues significant weaknesses of regional governments struggling to tackle illicit financial flows.

The report captures key areas of exposure to money laundering and terrorism financing detected in the economy in line with international compliance standards set by the Financial Action Taskforce based in Paris, France. The assessment is supposed to be carried out after every five years.

Terrorism funding refers to money generated by terrorist organisations to finance terror activities, particularly recruitment and training of fighters, maintenance of local cells that accommodate militants, propaganda campaigns and terror attacks such as the World Trade Centre bombings in New York City in September 2011.

More cash received by terrorist groups implies higher capacity to conduct multiple, deadly attacks in countries involving several collaborators, observers say.

Neighbouring countries


The report states that terrorists fund their war chests mainly from extortion schemes, wildlife crimes, piracy, trade, donations from non-profit organisations and foreign remittances, among others.

Some of the major terrorist groups names in the region are the Somalia-based Al Shabaab, the Ugandan Democratic Republic of Congo-based Allied Democratic Force (ADF) and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) also originally Uganda-based but now reportedly operating in the Central African Republic.

The LRA is led by Joseph Kony. Whereas Al Shabaab is based in Somalia and is responsible for several terror attacks in that country, this group has also planned and executed a number of attacks, especially in Kenya and the neighbouring countries.

Al Shabaab’s main sources of income are extortion, trade, foreign remittances and piracy, according to the report.

The group’s extortion victims include Somali families that receive welfare cash transfers from relatives running businesses in Uganda, most of which are located in the central Kampala area; a scenario that presents complicated enforcement choices for Uganda’s security agencies.

In comparison, the ADF’s presence has been felt in the eastern DR Congo where it maintains some bases and parts of Uganda since it was formed in 1996.

The ADF is blamed for past civilian massacres in eastern DRC and the series of bombings in Kampala in 1997 and 1998 that killed scores of civilians.

The group is led by Jamil Mukulu, a former Christian and radical Islamic activist who is currently facing a host of treason charges together with suspected ADF members in the High Court Criminal Division and has called for the creation of an Islamic state in Uganda.

Its sources of revenue include trade, real estate business, illegal mining and donations from non-profit organisations, the report shows.

Some of the group’s real estate are located in Tanzania, intelligence sources claim.

The LRA was started in 1987 and waged a drawn-out armed rebellion against the government in northern Uganda.

This group is notorious for maiming its victims across Uganda and South Sudan, cutting off their lips, arms and ears but was eventually kicked out of Uganda in 2006 following the Ugandan Army’s Operation Iron Fist.

LRA remnants fled South Sudan and moved to eastern DRC before relocating to the jungles of the Central African Republic in 2009. Its sources of income include wildlife crimes, illegal mining and looting.

Intelligence coup

Mobile money services, forex bureaus and foreign money remittance platforms, apparently carry one of the highest terrorism financing risk levels in Uganda’s economy.

“Fairly small transactions done on these platforms and weak Know Your Customer guidelines are mainly blamed for high terrorism risks...

“Although there are transaction thresholds, these can still pose some risk to terrorism financing, and can be easily circumvented. In the case of forex and money remitters, the high vulnerability is largely driven by the low quality of controls, particularly ineffective monitoring and reporting of suspicious transactions and weak compliance functions in the institutions …” reads the report.

But sources in the mobile money services sector disagree with this negative assessment.

“The mobile money services sector’s compliance levels to anti-money laundering and combating of the financing of terrorism are very high and pose little challenge to the country’s enforcement efforts,” said a source at Airtel Uganda.

Legal gaps, abuse of court orders and limited sharing of intelligence information across national borders are also a major bottleneck for antiterrorism financing enforcement efforts.

However, the NRA report appears cautious and guarded on the quality of Uganda’s anti-terrorism enforcement efforts.

“The quality of terrorism-related intelligence is good and domestic co-operation is smooth, which has led to the effective disruption of terrorist attacks. The process to build capacity to generate desired terrorism financing intelligence is on course, and the level of reporting of suspicious transactions related to terrorism is not commensurate to the terrorism financing risk,” the document says.