A report by Indonesian and Australian authorities detailed the risk faced by non-profit organisations. It also urged countries in the region to cooperate more closely to halt the flow of funds from militants, particularly from the Islamic State (IS) group.
“These are often very legitimate organisations who are sending money to trouble spots around the world to help civilians who are suffering,” Paul Jevtovic, head of Australia’s financial intelligence agency, told the meeting on the Indonesian resort island of Bali.
“Unfortunately the intelligence tells us that some of these funds do not get to their intended destination and are in fact hijacked by terrorist groups and used for propaganda and/or actually committing terrorist acts.”
The “unscrupulous nature” of terror cells meant that they would intercept funds intended for people in need and for hospitals, he added, without naming specific groups.
Jevtovic however stressed that non-profit organisations have a “critical role to play” helping civilians in war-torn areas, and he was not aiming to “denounce the importance of charities”.
The warning came after an Israeli court last week charged the Gaza director of the World Vision non-governmental organisation with passing millions of dollars to the Palestinian Islamic movement Hamasand its armed wing.
The US-based Christian aid organisation has said it has “no reason to believe” the allegations against Mohammed al-Halabi.
The report on terrorism financing in Southeast Asia and Australia noted two cases in Australia from the mid-2000s that involved charities raising almost Aus$1 million ($750,000) which was sent to foreign-bassed terror groups for organisational funding.
In Thailand some non-profit groups had diverted money to fund propaganda in the insurgency-torn south, where Muslim rebels seeking greater autonomy have been waging a campaign against the Buddhist-majority state, the report said.
The report, put together with collaboration from other Southeast Asian nations, also urged countries in the region to combat money flowing into the region to fund terror attacks. It noted that money for a deadly attack in Jakarta was reported to have come from IS fighters in the Middle East.
Southeast Asian governments, notably in Muslim-majority Indonesia and Malaysia, and Australia have been increasingly concerned by the growing number of their citizens heading to the Middle East to fight for IS.
The two-day counter-terrorism meeting co-hosted by Australia and Indonesia began Wednesday and was attended by ministers from more than 20 nations.