Paper presented to ASEAN Security Symposium, August 2018 Part 2

Paper presented to ASEAN Security Symposium, August 2018 Part 2

Nigel Morris-Cotterill

The International Association of
Counterterrorism and Security Professionals

ASEAN Security Symposium

Monday 27 August 2017: 16:15
Intercontinental Hotel, Kuala Lumpur

Panel: The Regional Terrorism Financing Landscape

Speaker / Panellist Nigel Morris-Cotterill

Conventional Money, Unconventional Aims:
How Terrorists Are At The Forefront Of Financial Crime Risks

28. Now a change of direction. When people talk about terrorism, they are usually talking about the pointy end, the part where someone is blown up, run over by a lorry or some such. In this room, you all know that these actions do not happen in isolation: they happen because someone who has some kind of mental shortcoming is influenced by someone who is presented as more educated, more clever, more sophisticated than him - or because someone bribes, bullies or blackmails him into committing the act.

29. We need to look at how the pre-cursor events are funded. And here we get into some seriously difficult territory because in order to look at it we have to look at the very building blocks of the society we choose. Before I start, I want to make one thing clear: there is no place in decent society for the term "Islamic terrorism," just as there is no place for creating any other religious label. However, these are used as justifications for those criminals who use the methods of terrorism for political ends. They can be from either end of the political spectrum or, because politics is not linear with only left and right at opposite ends, any other part of what is in fact a complex web.

30. Here in Malaysia, after Malaysia became self-governing, the government, facing a communist insurgency and uprising asked the UK to assist. While doing so, one of the British commanders used the expression that fighting that terrorism was "a battle for the hearts and minds" of the people. It is this that everything from religious fundamentalism, political extremism and many other isms exploit. The first casualty of war is truth, another old saying goes. Indoctrination, from a young age, is one of the most fundamental ways in which tomorrow's activists are created. They are taught to accept, to believe without question, what they are told. Often they are punished if they ask questions. This is common across all extremes of thought, be it religious, traditionally political or the modern social media version of politics where dissent from the views of a self-appointed angry minority results in so-called "trolling." But the message they all present is a one-dimensional, contorted version of the truth, a version of the truth that is created for the political purposes of those who have access to susceptible minds.

31. It doesn't matter whether a person is uneducated due to age or due to lack of opportunity: they will almost always trust someone who is better educated than them, who speaks better than them, who wears better clothes than them. This has always been so but today it's even worse. Internet marketing company Rakuten recently produced some figures that should make all of us worried. We should be worried because the radicals are active in schools and reading rooms and social clubs and public spaces but especially because they are active on the internet. Rakuten's numbers translate back from the internet to the dusty school rooms of poor villages and every part of society in between.

They found:

a. 66% of consumers globally trust influencers to give them an unbiased review of a product or service.

b. 57% of consumers have made a purchase based solely on an online influencer's recommendation.

Think about that: what greater influencer is there than teachers and religious figures or, in the case of politics, the slimy politicians promising a better world for less work or those who argue that one race or religious group is deserving of special treatment and is in some way superior but downtrodden by a minority that has somehow obtained a disproportionate degree of wealth and, through that, power? What more vulnerable targets are there than those who are looking for truth but do not have the information, education or intellect to decide who to trust and who fall back onto those who are said to be trustworthy - the equivalent of those internet influencers?

32. The fact is that it doesn't matter what form of quackery or technology or ideology or path to seventh heaven or whatever, terrorism starts not when the kid straps on an explosive belt or rents a lorry, it starts when someone muddles his mind.

33. By focussing on the financing at the latter part of the process, we are fighting a battle that is already lost. We must address the funding of those who create ideologies that are divisive and create what is almost a global robot army willing to suffer or die for the will of those creating the problems. This week, it has been announced that Da'esh's al Baghdadi has released a new audio message rousing what he calls his soldiers all over the world. Some have claimed he's dead, others have said that's not true. It almost doesn't matter because someone has access to the necessary communication channels and while cheap they are not free. From the internet to the dirt poor schools in undeveloped countries to the failing schools of the developed world, the bad guys are able to identify potential targets and turn them into weapons. Worse, as we have seen in many cases of those joining Da'esh, often those people are self-selecting often without any direct personal contact with anyone who converts them.

34. It is on this that we need to focus the questions of funding, including funding through official channels and charities. Here's my final shocking comment: because extremism is the result of lessons taught in schools and churches funded by governments, governments, religious charities and churches and aid organisations are a significant contributor to the end result which is called terrorism. And that is done with currency not with any of the devious means of funding that are so often the focus of those who demand that the funding be addressed.

35 This paper will be available from 7pm Malaysian time on my website at

36. Thank you.