Does hawala offer clues to the Paris attacks?

Financial transactions will be a key part of the investigation of the team of eight Islamic State operatives that brought mayhem to Paris. Where will the investigators look, and what may they find?

Where did they get their money?

One key source of funding for the group is likely to be cash brought back to France by jihadis returning from the Middle East to Europe. Their currency of choice is likely to be dollars, but one may speculate the French operatives will have access to compliant hawaladars (managers of informal cash systems called Hawala) or bureaux de change who will provide change facilities into euro. Could this process of exchanging dollars for euros be a key area of interest to investigators of the Paris outrage?

The sums are likely to be quite small. Few costs are involved in setting up or implementing a terror attack. Guns and ammunition and suicide belts will have been smuggled into Paris from IS sympathisers abroad. It will be recalled that the three perpetrators of the Charlie Hebdo attack obtained a weapon in Belgium.

The second area of cost for a terrorist group is the living expenses required during what may have been an extensive period of preparation of the attack. This attack on five Paris targets would have taken some considerable scoping out. The restaurants around the Stade de France needed to be selected and scrutinised on many occasions for suitability.

How did the gang fund their living expenses?

Some may have had ‘day jobs’. Investigations of other outrages has shown terrorists working as taxi drivers. This gives them the opportunity to scope out locations without incurring suspicion. A taxi can drive by restaurants many times to check the territory while appearing to be seeking customers.

Other members of the gang preparing an outrage will want to stay away from people altogether, fearing that their movements will cause suspicion. They may be supported by colleagues who share their income or by the parent organisation that secretly funds their activitis and needs. It can be safely speculated that the eight worked in jobs paying cash, and very likely avoided conventional banks. The Paris eight are unlikely to have repeated the mistake of the London bombers of 2005 who had credit card records on their bodies? This assisted their identification and the subsequent investigation.

Money remitting and hawala

The shadowy sector of international money remitters in Paris with links to remitters in the Middle East will be an obvious focus of interest to investigators of the Paris outrage. Remitters largely fall beneath the radar of intelligence. Remitting bureaux have mushroomed as conventional banks have abandoned dangerous overseas geographies. Their activities are largely unregulated.
An alternative route to obtaining finance is through the ethnically-based hawala structure whose informal basis allows unregistered and unregulated funds transfer across international borders. Jihadis will be directed to Hawaladar sympathisers of Islamic State for their financial needs. Another critical area where investigators must probe for clues to the outrage.


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    […] terrorists largely operate in a cash economy. Terrorist money is more likely to move through the international hawala network where agents or hawaladars sympathetic to their cause move funds using banking on trust. In such a […]