The messenger app “Telegram” promises to be safe from access by uninvited readers. The communication is encrypted, so authorities have no access to the data. The service allows not only to send a message from A to B, so-called group chats allow communication with hundreds, thousands of users in dedicated channels.
In authoritarian regimes, the service is used to organize protests without the authorities getting wind of it. However, there are also extremist groups that use Telegram. The best example is the machinations of the alleged “Reichsbürger” and conspiracy revolutionaries in Germany, who used the app to plan and communicate attempted coups and attacks. Not only the extreme right uses the app, but also terrorists of the so-called Islamic State (IS) have been making jihad propaganda for years, recruiting newcomers, networking via Telegram, and also promoting donations among their supporters. MENA Research Center already reported on this in the last “Europe Monitoring”.
We also reported there how the German police carried out a major raid against such a support network of Islamists. More than 1,000 police officers searched more than 100 apartments in German cities. The seven arrested, mostly German citizens, are said to have collected money for IS fighters in northern Syria and forwarded it there. This was announced by the federal prosecutor responsible for terrorism proceedings. Dozens of people who are said to have donated this money are also being investigated.
The IS “caliphate”, which was conquered by the terrorist organization in Syria and Iraq by 2015, has been history since 2019. Many fighters and their relatives were killed, but tens of thousands are still living in refugee or prison camps, mainly in the Kurdish-controlled areas of northern Syria.
In the “Al-Hol” camp alone there are around 50,000 to 60,000 people, most of them women and children, who have fled the former IS areas. But they are not alone, because their neighbor in the camp could also be a former tormentor: thousands of former, still radical and violent fighters still live there.
According to the German security authorities, the donation network started via Telegram is said to have served to give this group of terrorists financial support. For years there have been appeals for donations on social media with titles like “Your sister in the camp”. This campaign was promoted on Telegram with posts like this: “If Allah asks you what you have done with the fortune He gave you, what will you answer?” The German Office for the Protection of the Constitution warned as early as 2021 that such appeals for donations served to support the people in the camps and to improve their situation on the ground with money and relief supplies, but also to use the money to buy people out of the camps or pay smugglers become.
Telegram is popular for such calls because the network advertises with absolute discretion towards investigative authorities. However, the operators have softened their strict line somewhat in recent years – at least when it comes to investigations aimed at suspected fighters and supporters of Islamist terrorist groups. Telegram has already passed on user data of suspected IS people in some proceedings.
During their investigations, the German investigators came across two women who are said to have organized such a fundraising campaign in Syria. They have been asking for money on Telegram since 2020. The two are also under investigation, but have not yet been arrested. According to the Federal Public Prosecutor, they collected money by setting up accounts and “digital donation funds”.
A total of at least 65,000 euros was apparently collected, which ended up as aid in camps in Al-Hol and Roj, where around 3,000 people still live. On the other hand, according to the investigators, they also served to finance the escape. Officially, the main charge against those arrested is supporting a terrorist organization abroad.
Occasionally there have already been judgments because of such fundraisers. In February 2023, for example, a German court imposed a prison sentence of two years and nine months on a 31-year-old Islamist for supporting IS. The woman’s Iraqi husband was sentenced to six years in prison for membership in IS. According to the judge, both had organized or supported fundraisers through liaisons that also benefited or should benefit IS women in Kurdish captivity.
One of the methods used by the convicts was so-called hawala banking – an ancient money transfer system with which cash is transferred quickly and largely anonymously outside the state-approved banking system for a commission. This unofficial system is used for both legal and illegal transfers. A woman who managed to escape from the prison camp and who is now said to be in Idlib in northwestern Syria is said to have also benefited from the money. Ironically, the area where fighters from groups close to al-Qaeda are still cavorting – including Germans who are also organizing fundraisers via Telegram. In such cases, prison sentences have been repeatedly imposed on terrorist supporters.
It has long been known in the Islamist scene that money transfers are being investigated. Scene members therefore warn again and again on Telegram. “A person collects funds and then offers a bank account or other insecure payment methods. The authorities are very active on the Internet and also have their hounds,” says an entry in an IS Telegram channel written in early May. There is a risk that a person will be accused of financing terrorism “simply” because they wanted to “help some poor sisters”. It is therefore advisable to make use of “anonymous methods of money transfer”.
All publishing rights and copyrights reserved to MENA Research and Study Center.