By Omar Bah
The director of Counter Terrorism and Legal Affairs at the State Intelligence Services (SIS), said his office has placed some individuals in The Gambia on a watchlist of potential terrorism financiers.
The West Africa region has experienced a devastating surge in terrorist attacks against civilian and military targets over the years. However, The Gambia has not experienced any cases of terrorism related crimes but Director Modou Lamin Jallow said the country is a soft target because its financial market is largely unregulated.
However, he said his agency knows who in The Gambia is financing terrorism or involved in terrorist activities outside.
“We have a watchlist of individuals we are monitoring very closely so we know their ins and outs…. It is not out of order for an intelligence service to have a watchlist of individuals of interest and place them under surveillance”.
He said there might not be any concrete evidence linking the individuals to terrorism or terrorist financing but that his agency will continue to monitor.
“We don’t have incidents of terrorism yet but it’s highly likely that we are unwittingly helping in the funding of terrorist activities outside the country because if I work for a terrorist organisation, let say, ISIL in Mali, and I operate a forex bureau here, and I launder the funds and transit them to Mali for the purpose of recruitment or buying weapons, I am indirectly funding terrorism,” he added.
He said there could also be possibilities of individuals who crossed over into the country from countries affected by terrorism activities.
Jallow said the SIS is working closely with other security services like the police, drug law enforcement agency and the department of immigration to ensure they detect and monitor individuals suspected of involvement in terrorist activities.
“We need the banks and the microfinance agencies to be filing suspicious financial transactions because speaking from a security point of view, as scary as it is, we cannot get rid of terrorism, we just try to control it because it is a very complex transnational crime that is embedded in many other criminal activities and finance is just one of those ways of its expansion,” he added.
He said the financial institutions and real estate agencies play a crucial role in terrorism financing.
“We know this because we are in the field and see happenings around. Every day I go to bed thinking there is going to be a bomb somewhere. This is not to scare you but it is just what we see around. We see the banking sector and the forex bureaux being used. You will agree with me that there is a forex bureau at every [street] junction and you have people walking around with cash in their bags,” he argued.
He explained that the local forex bureaux operators might not even know they are being used as conduits for terrorism financing.
Director Jallow said in The Gambia there are a “bunch of youths that are highly radicalised to accept terrorism activities” and SIS is concerned “because terrorists are just what they are. They are more sophisticated and wealthier . Now they are also in cryptocurrencies.”
He said the SIS director general operates an open-door policy and is open to working closely with the banks to fight money laundering especially as it relates to terrorism financing.
Director Jallow was speaking at a workshop on Friday organised by the Bankers Association for banks and government law enforcement agencies.