Somali telecoms head accused of terrorist involvement

The head of one of Somalia’s largest telecommunications firms has been accused by the United Nations Security Council of financing a terrorist cell with links to Al-Qaeda via hawalas, an informal system for transferring money.

Ali Ahmed Nur Jim’ale of Hormuud Telecommunications stands accused of providing funds to the terrorist group Al-Shabaab, the Somalia-based cell of Al-Qaeda. It has also been inferred that Mr Jim’ale was involved in procuring weapons and ammunition for the group.

The Security Council’s Department of Public Information reported that Mr Jim’ale took advantage of hawala by setting up a mobile money transfer system known as ZAAD which made “money transfers more anonymous by eliminating the need to show identification.”

Hormuud Telecommunications was founded by former leaders of another Somali telecommunications firm, al-Barakaat. The latter firm was suspected of involvement in the 9/11 terrorist attacks but was cleared in 2006 after investigations determined that the hawala services offered by the firm were not used to transfer money which funded the attacks.

The accusations brought against Mr Jim’ale will be detrimental to the efforts of the many Somali communities attempting to restore US faith in the hawala system. Currently no US banks with presence in Somalia do business via the system; the Sunrise Community Bank ceased its involvement last year, having been the last bank to have dealings with the hawalas.

Many of the banks have expressed concern that if their money is used to fund terrorism, they could face federal indictment. The situation has prompted outrage among Somali communities living abroad who are now unable to send money to their relatives. Many communities have begun protesting, with customers threatening to close their accounts if the banks do not resume business with the hawalas.

“We are hoping that it is going to be effective,” said Ms Hinda Ali of the Somali Action Alliance. “Many religious institutions and individual businesses have accounts with these banks. The banks need to be held accountable.”

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