Send Me Your Money: Controlling International Terrorism by Restricting Fundraising in the United States

By Benson, Jacqueline | Houston Journal of International Law, Winter 1999 | Go to article overview

Send Me Your Money: Controlling International Terrorism by Restricting Fundraising in the United States


Benson, Jacqueline, Houston Journal of International Law


I. INTRODUCTION

Policy relating to international terrorism has long been a hotly debated issue in the United States.(1) While virtually everyone would agree that terrorism is bad, few agree whether to bargain with terrorists, how to punish terrorists, or even who qualifies as a terrorist.(2)

However one chooses to define terrorism, its international impact cannot be underestimated.(3) The U.S. State Department recently reported that while incidents of international terrorism have fallen over the last ten years, the number of victims has increased.(4) According to FBI Director Louis Freeh, "Although the number of attacks directed at American interests remains comparatively low, the trend toward more large-scale incidents designed for maximum destruction, terror, and media impact actually places an increasing proportion of our population at risk."(5) Religious fanatics were responsible for most terrorist acts in 1996.(6) The most active terrorist group that year was the Kurdistan Workers Party, which was blamed for seventy-six minor terrorist attacks in Germany.(7) While the attacks of the Kurdistan Workers Party caused little damage and no casualties, Iran was probably responsible for over fifty murders of political dissidents between 1990 and 1996.(8) The State Department reported that approximately twenty-five percent of the terrorist attacks were directed toward American targets outside of the United States.(9)

In response to terrorist incidents at home and abroad, Congress pushed terrorism back into the limelight and developed new preventative legislation. Congress passed 18 U.S.C. [sections] 2339A in 1994.(10) It was amended by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.(11) These laws include provisions that make it illegal to solicit funds or donate money to international terrorist organizations.(12) In addition, President Clinton signed an executive order designed to protect the Middle East Peace Process in 1995.(13) Congress hopes these measures will stem the tide of money being sent from the United States to foreign terrorist organizations.(14) Following the federal lead, in 1996 Illinois became the first state in the country to pass legislation restricting terrorist funding.(15)

These laws could have a strong impact on international terrorism by cutting off a major source of funding for terrorist groups.(16) However, the laws have had virtually no effect thus far because they are nearly impossible to enforce.(17) This comment will explore the new legislation and the problems with enforcement.

II. WHY ANTITERRORISM LAWS WERE PASSED

The antiterrorist funding restrictions respond to the government's fear that terrorist groups are using charitable inclinations of Americans to fund terrorist activities abroad.(18) The 1995 Global Pattern of Terrorism study reported that the Palestinian group HAMAS, the radical Jewish groups Kach and Kahane Chai, the Sri Lankan group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA),(19) and the Sikh groups of Babbar Khalsa and Khalistan Liberation Front received external aid from North America.(20)

While it is clear that American money is sent to fund foreign terrorists, it is unclear how much of the money is actually raised in the United States.(21) FBI Director Louis Freeh said, "We have been able to show the transfer of substantial cash funds from the United States to areas in the Mid-East where we could show Hamas received an even expenditure of those funds."(22) However, Freeh admitted that FBI surveillance may have only uncovered a small percentage of this activity.(23) New York Senator Charles Shumer believes HAMAS may get as much as fifty percent of its funding from the United States.(24) Steven Emerson testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that HAMAS has a yearly budget of seventy to ninety million dollars, approximately half of which is received from the United States and other Western countries. …

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