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Tracking terrorists’ credit cards when ‘funding is the mainstay of jihad’

Jeremy Simon

If you need proof that the war against terrorism isn’t only being fought with guns and bombs, consider the image of a U.S. soldier stationed in Afghanistan, carrying a credit card reader.

credit-card-terrorism.jpgAccording to a recent piece by National Public Radio, President Obama has so far continued the Bush administration’s policy of tracking terrorists’ money. That includes finding and following their money trail in order to eventually disrupt the flow of funds needed to carry out terrorist attacks.

NPR quotes Andrew Cochran, founder and co-editor of the Counterterrorism Blog, who says that within the past several years, soldiers in Afghanistan have been equipped with credit card readers. In an e-mail, Cochran calls the use of card readers a “breakthrough” in cooperation between the Department of Defense, the U.S. Treasury and financial institutions. Those card readers provide a window into terrorist networks. “A soldier can scan a credit card found at the scene of a military raid. It might tell him who is in a terrorist financial network and how much money is in the account,” NPR reports.

Of course, it may also simply provide the name of a legitimate cardholder whose account information was stolen by terrorist fraudsters.

Still, the decision to arm soldiers with card readers confirms that the U.S. military is aware of what terrorism experts and radical jihadists themselves acknowledge: Funding is key to terrorist operations. Al-Qaida readily admits this fact. In the article, NPR highlights a video interview that al-Qaida released in May 2007 with one of the group’s leaders in Afghanistan. In the video, Mustafa Ahmed Muhammad Uthman Abu al-Yazid (who uses the nom de guerre Sheik Saeed) tells the interviewer that financial needs must be first met in order to carry out jihad in that country.

“There are hundreds wishing to carry out martyrdom-seeking operations, but they can’t find the funds to equip themselves. So funding is the mainstay of jihad,” Saeed explains in Arabic.

Whether that funding comes from fraudulently obtained credit card data or from legitimate cards that enable the transfer of money to operatives, effective anti-terrorist measures require that those responsible for our protection keep their sights trained on terrorist cardholders.

See related: The credit card-terrorism connection, Study: Terrorists pay with credit cards

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