In many cases, the individuals and companies engaging in terror finance are unaware of their role providing funding to terrorist groups. The global economy runs on endless transactions and layers and layers of financial bureaucracy that can obscure the channels through which money passes to terrorists. But no matter the funder’s intention, the fact remains that their assets allow terrorist groups to maintain their operations and carry out unspeakable acts of horror. Companies should be liable for the damage their money causes, and held accountable for their role in the financial chain.
For those questioning the extent and impact of terror financing, the September 11th attacks provide an important illustrative example. The most infamous terrorist attack on U.S. soil cost somewhere between $400,000 and $500,000 to execute, making extensive use of banks in the United States. And while officials remain unable to determine the origin of the money used, it is known that al-Qaeda had many sources of funding and a pre-September 11th annual budget estimated at $30 million.
Today, the scale of terror finance has expanded at a tremendous – and alarming – rate. Of the $3 trillion exchanged in today's international markets, hundreds of millions annually are used to finance terrorism. Money laundering is a particularly popular tool for terrorist groups, many of which benefit from a global drug trafficking trade worth $100 billion annually. Al-Qaeda in particular capitalizes on the heroin trade in South Asia to safeguard and channel their finances internationally.
The Iran Sanctions Bill builds on penalties that are intended to disrupt this terrorist money trail. Under the legislation, U.S. financial institutions will be newly empowered to monitor and halt illicit activity between companies doing business with Iran, especially those based in the United States. By sanctioning Iran's transactions related to international oil sales, technology, shipping, and financial sectors, this week's act of Congress is a major step toward combating terrorist activity. Financial institutions and oil companies that help fund – wittingly or not – terror activities: you are on notice.
The members of Congress and organizations that courageously pushed for passage of the Iran Sanctions Bill – including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee – deserve to be recognized for their role in raising the stakes against perpetrators of terror. Their collective effort, exemplified by a 421-6 majority vote, empowers our fight against a global terrorist network.
In a climate where we must be ever vigilant against terrorist threats, it is important to relish and savor these times of collective, bipartisan action. But we cannot rest on our laurels. We have to keep adapting, keep preempting, and keep fighting the fiscal lifeblood that keeps the heart of terrorist groups beating. This act of Congress is a powerful step in the right direction, but the international community must also join our efforts to ensure these sanctions have their desired effect. Otherwise, we will simply be fighting a terrorist Hydra – with new financial channels opening where others have already been closed.
Darshan-Leitner is an Israeli attorney, human rights activist and the founder of Shurat HaDin Israeli Law Center.