Blurry lines, terror and serious organised crime By Philip Ingram MBE

Did you know that if you pay a ransomware release fee to a criminal organisation, the authorities don’t really care, in fact I have been in a briefing where a senior FBI agent said ‘pay!’ However, if that criminal organisation has terror links, then you have committed an offence under the Terrorism Act and could be prosecuted.

The murder of the journalist Lyra McKee by the New IRA in Derry/Londonderry in April has brought non-Islamist terror to our headlines. But who are the New IRA, should we be worried and what else should we know?

The New IRA were formed in 2012 following a merger between groups including the Real IRA and Republican Action Against Drugs (RAAD), which was predominantly active in the Northwest of Northern Ireland, but with a presence in some other republican strongholds across the province.

It has been blamed for the murders of two prison officers, attempted car bombing of a police officer, regularly instigating disturbances and riots in Derry, throwing grenades at, and shooting at, the Police. In January 2019 a car bomb exploded outside Derry city courthouse. The New IRA were blamed.

In March, five parcel bombs were sent from the Irish Republic to addresses in Great Britain, four were delivered, only one partially initiating when it was opened, and one was returned to a sorting office in the Republic of Ireland where it was discovered and dealt with. The New IRA were blamed.

The New IRA are a very active organisation and are getting more sophisticated in their attacks. However, what isn’t common knowledge is that one of their constituent groups, the Real IRA was listed by Forbes Israel in 2014 as the 9th richest terror group in the world.

The Real IRA were sandwiched between Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram with a £32 million annual turnover. This money comes from extortion, smuggling, drug running, robbery and other organised criminal activities. These activities will have been taken over by the New IRA who have largely the same leadership. The link between serious and organised crime and terror couldn’t be clearer.

The list is interesting and most dissident republican groups, such as the Continuity IRA and all of the loyalist terror groups failed to make it.

Forbes Israel top 10 of terror:

1 Isis £1.3bn

2 Hamas £638m

3 Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) £383m

4 Hezbollah £319m

5 Taliban £255m

6 Al-Qaeda and affiliates £96m

7 Lashkar e-Taiba £64m

8 Al-Shabaab £45m

9 Real IRA £32m

10 Boko Haram £16m

It is widely reported that the likes of ISIS and Al Qaeda have made their money through oil exports, taxes on those in areas they control, the opium market. Of note, the Telegraph reported last year that Afghan opium provides more than 90 per cent of the world’s heroin and 95 per cent of that found on Britain’s streets.

How does this link to my opening comment on ransomware? The Charities Commission defines terrorist financing as the raising, moving, storing and using of financial resources for the purposes of terrorism.

The law is quite clear, under sections 15-18 of the Terrorism Act 2000 criminal offences related to terrorist financing are listed. Specifically, it says, it is an offence to:

  • Raise, receive or provide funds for the purpose of terrorism
  • Hold or use funds for the purposes of terrorism
  • Become involved in an arrangement to make funds available for the purposes of terrorism
  • Facilitate the laundering of terrorist money

The key elements of these sections are “provide funds and make funds available.” What makes this legal provision even more stringent is, “A person is guilty of an offence if he ‘knows’, ‘intends’ or has ‘reasonable cause to suspect’ that the terrorist funds may be used for the purposes of terrorism.” The key phrase here is ‘reasonable cause to suspect.’

Strictly speaking, heroin users and certainly suppliers in the UK, are helping to fund terrorist activity through Afghanistan and are therefore committing an offence under the Terrorism Act 2000. However, these higher levels of organised crime are just the tip of the iceberg. The same groups that supply class A drugs tend to be involved in a lot more criminal activity.

Putting this into context with activities that we could all easily come across, the counterfeited CDs and DVDs at the local car boot, the knock off cigarettes and tobacco being supplied through Craigslist, the cheap diesel that has come from filtered red diesel, the extortion money, through ransomware or good old fashioned protection rackets, the massage parlours taxing the trafficked prostitutes; all of these activities have links to organised crime and with many it would be ‘reasonable to suspect’ that some of the organised crime gangs have links to terrorist organisations or individuals with terrorist links.

The Belfast published weekly newspaper, The Sunday Life, reported in 2016 the prosecution of Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy who was jailed for 18 months for defrauding the Irish Exchequer out of £147,000 in tax over an eight-year period. The newspapers investigation found that even after being arrested, he continued to control secret fuel factories in Cullyhanna, Crossmaglen and Meigh (all Irish border towns) worth £23 million in total.

The premises, which had the capacity to manufacture 34 million litres of ‘dirty diesel’ annually, were uncovered by customs officials and PSNI officers during four separate raids between 2012 and 2014.

Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy was suspected for many years as the Chief of Staff of the IRA and a member of their General Army Council. His link between terror and organised crime is clear.

However, the issue of funding terror activity through organised crime is not confined to the island of Ireland. National Action, Scottish Dawn and NS131 are all recently proscribed extreme right-wing groups in Great Britain, their funding comes from somewhere and that somewhere is most likely to be extortion, Craigslist and car boot supplied counterfeit cigarettes, CDs and DVDs, illegally imported booze, drug supply and prostitution.

The new Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019 is a step change in enabling counter terror legislation to be utilised more readily when dealing with the growing threat. The Government have made a clear statement of intent. So, the next time you see a bargain at a car boot or online, or spot a drug deal going down, as a Security professional you have now been warned of the link, so there is no excuse not to have a ‘reasonable cause to suspect.’

Philip Ingram MBE

Philip Ingram MBE

Philip Ingram is an internationally respected defence and security journalist and consultant. Building on a long and distinguished military career, retiring as a full Colonel, after performing intelligence, counter-intelligence, security and planning roles, whilst on active service. He is also the man behind the rapidly expanding, and highly regarded, organisation, Grey Hare Media.

Philip is a strategic thinker and recognised subject matter expert on issues of international security, defence and geo political events…..