Since the early days of jihadism, Islamist extremists have exploited charitable organisations, non-profit organisations and NGOs to provide financial and material support for terrorist activity. Efforts increased to tackle this problem in the wake of the attacks on the United States on 11 September 2001, and a vast body of research and policy work has developed in the area of counter-terrorism financing. However, the ways in which charitable organisations have been used by Islamist extremists to spread their divisive and intolerant ideology have received relatively less attention.
On 12 July 2017, Home Secretary Amber Rudd made an official statement following the Home Office's internal review into the funding of Islamist Extremism in the UK. The review found that while a small number of extremist organisations received a significant proportion of their income from abroad, the majority did not, leading to the conclusion that ´"a comprehensive approach focused particularly on domestic sources of support for all forms of extremism is needed!"
The review found that some organisations were "purposefully vague" about their activities and charitable status, portray themselves as charities to increase their credibility and exploit the Islamic duty to give to charity, and that those donating money may not be aware of the 'organisations'· agenda. Yet, the Home Office did not make the details of these organisations public.
It is vital that information about these organisations and the strategies they employ is in the public domain, not least because evidence shows that in the last year alone a selection of the charities mentioned in this report received a minimum of £6,066,952 from the British taxpayer through Gift Aid. As the case studies in this report are illustrative rather than comprehensive, it is likely that this sum represents only the tip of the iceberg.
Contrary to claims that the problem is ´'negligible' the charities detailed in this report demonstrate that, despite more than a decade of attempts to improve regulation of the charitable sector, a concerning number of UK-registered charities continue to fund and support extremism. This is done by providing a platform for a network of Islamist extremist speakers, disseminating their literature, and giving them credibility, access to beneficiaries and the general public.
For decades the Charity Commission, which is legally unable to simply de-register "bad" charities, has been particularly ill equipped to deal with charities that are institutionally problematic, that is, involved with extremism at all levels of their activity. The Commission has demonstrated increasing engagement with, and recognition of, the problem, and the extension of its powers under the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Act 2016 has the potential to significantly improve regulation. Nevertheless, the public are yet to see if these powers will be used to maximum effect.
While charities can be abused for criminal purposes by those involved in terrorist activities, this report focuses on abuse by those Islamist extremists whose views are not illegal but remain problematic and dangerous. On occasion, the line between the two forms of abuse are blurred, with some charities connected to terrorism also showing signs of extremism, as is seen in the case of some humanitarian aid charities and those with other activities