Despite denials, several Western countries, including France and the United States, finance terrorist groups indirectly and often unintentionally, the author highlights.

The little phrase almost went unnoticed. Yet it was explosive. During an interview with The New York Times the [week before last], President Obama reproached France for paying ransom to terrorists, and therefore financing terrorism.

Paris denied doing so, and the two governments seemed to agree to leave it at that, so as not to fuel an argument that could be very embarrassing. The point is that the president’s small phrase raises the whole question of the West’s connection to financing terrorism.

Terrorists get money through different means. One of them is by taking hostages, and the ransoms paid for their freedom. According to many sources, France has spent $58 million since 2008 to free its citizens from the hands of al-Qaida in Maghreb. This way of proceeding irritates Barack Obama.

“President François Hollande of France says his country does not [pay ransom to terrorists], when in fact it does,” the American president lashed out. The Americans do not pay, implying that Americans are kidnapped at lower rates. And when this is the case, they are executed, as the world realized with the decapitation of two American journalists by the Islamic State.

As far as it is known, does the United States have the monopoly of virtue? Another means of filling the terrorists’ coffers is through official aid granted to rebel groups in Africa or the Near East. On Wednesday [Sept. 17], the Congress approved a plan to assist “moderate” Syrian rebels. What exactly does the adjective “moderate” mean? Does a benchmark exist that would allow measurement of this moderation? Is it certain that this aid will not be redirected to terrorist groups, as happened in the last case?

Schizophrenic Relationship with Terrorism

The United States proclaims that it does not finance any terrorist group. Is the wording not being manipulated here? Those who have history in mind will recall that 30 years ago, the rebels in Afghanistan and Nicaragua, fighting against pro-Soviet regimes that were then in place, were considered to be “freedom fighters” and therefore received generous subsidies. It was later discovered that they were likely to be terrorist members of al-Qaida and the Taliban movement, or robbers and killers linked to the Contras.

The fact of calling an organization “terrorist” is subject to controversy, and also brings with it its share of ambiguities when time comes to fight against terrorism and its financing. For the United States, the European Union and Israel, the Palestinian Hamas is a terrorist organization, but it isn’t one in the eyes of Turkey, Qatar or other countries that don’t hesitate to finance it. Yet Turkey and Qatar are allies of the West. And very useful allies, because the West, “not speaking” to terrorists, uses them to pass on messages, negotiate the freedom of hostages and bring ceasefire agreements to a close.

The Westerners are experiencing a schizophrenic relationship with terrorism. For 20 years, they have established security barriers and banks in order to fight against its financing, as well as recruitment and training networks. At the same time, these barriers are a large porosity. The deposit of ransoms, the refusal of allied Arab countries to cease the flood of money to certain groups — terrorists for some, rebels for the others — and the incapacity of Western countries to punish their “guilty” allies (who, for that matter, have just bought them for 70 billion arms), can only ensure that the present situation continues. When will there be a true policy against financing terrorism?