Australia’s financial intelligence agency Austrac says it has seen a 300 per cent increase in the number of financial transactions in Australia suspected of being linked to terrorism, particularly Islamic State (IS).
Austrac received 367 reports last financial year where banks and other financial or private sector entities suspected money was being sourced, sent or used to support terrorist-related activity overseas, particularly in Syria or Iraq.
Another 169 reports were flagged as “potentially related” to terrorism financing.
Overall, of 81,074 “suspicious matter reports” lodged with Austrac last financial year, 536 were identified as linked or potentially linked to terrorism.
Austrac chief executive Paul Jevtovic said the increase in global terrorist attacks had created a heightened awareness among banking staff and other financial bodies of potentially suspicious transactions.
“2014 was the deadliest year for terrorism on record,” he said.
“The threat is real, it is serious, it is not abating.
“That’s why agencies like Austrac and our partners both domestically and internationally have got to be vigilant.
“We have got to challenge ourselves, and we have got to continually find more effective ways to actually beat those who would support terrorist groups.”
In a new report on terrorism financing, Austrac has compiled a rough financial profile of those Australians who decide to go overseas to fight with IS, or other terror groups, or who supply financial support.
“Whether it is a terrorist act or crimes by organised criminals there’s always a financial DNA if you like,” Mr Jevtovic said.
“We need to further help the community understand the kind of signs where someone might be acting in a way, through their financial transactions, that could be consistent with someone preparing to commit a crime or in fact go and fight overseas as a foreign fighter, or be involved in a terrorist act.”
The report has identified financial behavioural patterns common among terrorist sympathisers planning to travel to Syria, or who send money to groups such as IS.
“Like most travellers, people travelling overseas to become a terrorist fighter are likely to seek funds to fund their travel and related expenses,” Mr Jevtovic said.
“We’ve had examples where they borrow from banks with no intention to pay it off. Or they go to family members and borrow money, which might be unusual or out of their normal behaviour,” he said.
“Some of them shut down particular bank accounts, leaving one account open.
“They may purchase stored-value cards, they might purchase particular items which are consistent with someone going overseas to fight for example with IS. There’s a range of things that they might do.”
For example, it is not uncommon for foreign terrorist fighters or supporters (FTFs or FTSs) to buy clothing suitable for use in battle scenarios or remit money overseas to countries in or around conflict zones such as Syria and Iraq.
Many even alert their banks that they are planning to travel.
Austrac increasingly relies on staff in banks and other financial institutions to report suspicious transactions.
Under Australian law they are required to report any such financial activity. And if the transaction is suspected of being linked to terrorism, a suspicious matter report must be submitted within 24 hours.
Last financial year Austrac received suspect transaction reports relating to terrorism financing valued at about $53 million.
At least 110 Australians are suspected of travelling to Syria or Iraq to fight for IS, while another 190 are suspected of providing support, either financially or in recruiting.
Overwhelmingly, the suspects involved were young men and women.