Indonesian overseas workers used as couriers

Money is being smuggled to Jemaah Islamiah (JI) terrorists in Indonesia and the region through a network of overseas workers acting as couriers.

Intelligence sources here said that several of these Indonesian labourers in Asia and the Middle East were being used – in many cases without their knowledge – to hand over cash and documents to ‘several contact points’ in the country.

These included mosques, religious boarding schools and even social foundations.

‘These workers are recruited overseas without knowing that they are helping a terrorist network,’ a senior intelligence official told The Straits Times.

‘They are given some pocket money to bring in these funds to hand out to so-called charitable and religious organisations. They do it because it appears harmless on the surface.’

Indonesia’s national intelligence agency, which is tasked with counter-terrorism, has been hard pressed to keep track of the money trail of terrorist groups.

Intelligence chief A.M. Hendropriyono admitted as much when in Batam yesterday.

‘We’ve cut off much of their money supply,’ he told the Associated Press. ‘But their money comes from private donations sent to Jemaah Islamiah through couriers, such as Indonesian workers who work in foreign countries and then return home.

‘This is incredibly difficult to clamp down on.’

The intelligence source said that it was difficult to put a figure on how much money was being funnelled into the country. But it was becoming increasingly clear that it was being done in ‘dribs and drabs’.

From the few cases that we have investigated, the money is small, amounting to no more than ‘a few thousand dollars’ in the hands of a courier. ‘But if you look at the big picture and just see how many workers we have overseas, it is a worrying problem,’ he said.

Hundreds of thousands of Indonesians work throughout Asia and the Middle East, mainly doing low-paid manual labour. Most return home every year or two, bringing their savings with them to share with their families.

The conventional wisdom among intelligence officers here has been that money for JI has flowed into Indonesia from social organisations in the Middle East like the Saudi-based Al-Haramain foundation, which has a number of branches in the country.

The involvement of overseas workers makes it even harder to trace the money trail.

Observers believe that this new trend, which might have been going on for the past five years, has another dimension to it. Al-Qaeda has seen value in sending terrorists into Indonesia by infiltrating groups of returning workers especially from Malaysia.

Given the porous borders and ineffective security enforcement, these terrorists can make their way across the country to meet their handlers without detection.

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