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Organisations such as al-Qaeda, ETA en PKK are copying Nigerian scams to fund terrorism, two Dutch experts told Dutch daily De Telegraaf this week.

Harald Koppe, head of the Dutch Unusual Transactions Reporting Office (MOT), and Harry Jongbloed of the Dutch criminal investigation department, say there is "strong evidence" from international crime fighting organisations such as the FBI that at least some of the terrorist funding is coming from advanced fee fraud (such as Nigerian-style scam emails) and the sale of pirated software, including CDs and DVDs. Using the internet to raise funds is fairly risk free, experts say.

According to an Interpol report prepared for the US House Committee on International Relations earlier this year, intellectual property crimes are indeed a growing resource for terrorist groups from Northern Ireland to the Arab world, including al-Qaeda and Hizbullah. Last year Interpol already called for a global crackdown on software and music piracy.

A couple of months ago the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) said it had evidence that illegal CD plants in Pakistan were financed by international terrorist Dawood Ibrahim, although some people have downplayed these claims as blatant propaganda.

But what about Nigerian scams? Could these seriously be a source of funding for terrorism? Or are terrorists merely copying their tactics?

To date, solid evidence for such claims hasn’t been presented publicly. In fact, the supposed link between Nigerian scammers and terrorists is still a matter of debate among experts. Some believe the cultural background of the perpetrators makes terrorism funding highly improbable. Others, such as Rachel Ehrenfeld, author of the book Funding Evil, say that as 50 per cent of the Nigerian population is Muslim, there is an ideological affiliation with some terrorist organisations. Hmm. A recent survey found that the proportion of Nigerian Muslims who view the United States favorably fell from more than 70 per cent to less than 40 per cent last year.

Ehrenfeld stresses that in many cases the collaboration is just financially motivated. "People who buy fake Gucci bags and Swiss watches sold by Nigerians on the sidewalks of Fifth Avenue in Manhattan contribute to terrorism," she claims.

The Dutch Unusual Transactions Reporting Office (MOT) believes there are some disturbing trends. Suspicious money transfers emanating from the European countries these days can often be linked to West African criminal networks, MOT concludes in its annual report. There also appear to be connections with the drugs trade.

Under the code name "Hyena", the Dutch criminal investigation department managed to freeze a total of €1m in bank accounts linked to Nigerian scams in the past couple of months, but it admits it is still only a very small part. ®

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