Little evidence of ‘Islamist extremism’ among UK charities

Caron Bradshaw, CEO of the Charity Finance Group, disputes William Shawcross’s assertion that the influence of “Islamist extremism” in the charity sector is “growing” and is “potentially the most deadly” problem the sector faces. She argues that this sort of inflammatory claim can have very damaging consequences.

Out of a total of 316,527 suspicious activity reports logged by organisations across the UK economy in 2013 to alert the national crime agency to unusual financial activity that could be money laundering or financing terrorism, only 23 came from charities. Of these, only one was referred to the National Terrorist Financial Investigation Unit and regional Counter Terrorism Units – equivalent to 0.12 per cent of all terrorist finance suspicious activity reports. I would not suggest the threat is over-hyped because any abuse of charity funds for terrorist ends cannot be tolerated; but the instances of actual abuse are extremely small in number. I suggest the pendulum is in danger of swinging too far.

The Financial Action Task Force, the global authority on the matter, says governments should not disrupt or discourage legitimate charitable activity in the name of counter-terrorism measures.

The damage that can be done by the few, exceptional cases of abuse of a charity for terrorist or extremist ends can be massive, but I can’t help feeling that it is unwise to single out Islamic extremism or think of it as the “most deadly” threat to charities. It is crucial for us to be alert to abuse in all its forms, irrespective of whether it’s fed by religious extremism – Islamic or any other kind.

Third Sector, 6 August 2014