Report: Boston Bombers Exploited Welfare Programs To Fund Terror Attack


A new report from the Government Accountability Institute reveals that welfare programs have often been used to fund terrorism at home or abroad. The family of the Boston bombers, in particular, took over $100,000 in public assistance.

In fact, the report seems to indicate that the brothers may have learned the strategy from an al-Qaida magazine that inspired them to make the bomb they used to kill three people and injure over 200 more.

“The Associated Press reported that both (Tsarnaev) brothers had also been ardent readers of jihadist websites and extremist propaganda,” the report reads, referring to the two brothers who committed the Boston bombing.

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“Tamerlan Tsarnaev in particular had devoured issues of Inspire magazine, an English-language online publication produced by al-Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate. Investigators focused much of their attention on an infamous Inspire article called ‘Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom,’ which offered detailed instructions for making a bomb inside a pressure cooker—precisely the type the Tsarnaev brothers used.”

“The terrorist magazine had in a previous issue urged aspiring jihadis in the West to use public assistance programs to fund their extremist activities. A 2011 Inspire article called ‘The Ruling on Dispossessing the Disbelievers Wealth in Dar Al-Harb’ encouraged those living in the non-Muslim world to ‘steal money from disbelievers’ in the same way as living off the land by ‘hunting and wood gathering.’ Quoting Anwar al-Awlaki, then the group’s leader, the article declared, ‘Muslims should seek the wealth of the disbelievers as a form of jihad,’ insisting that they should “spend the money on the cause of jihad and not on (themselves).’”

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“Inspire” was hardly alone in promoting this sort of thing. According to the report, outspoken radical cleric Anjem Choudary called the benefits program in his native United Kingdom a “Jihad seeker’s allowance.”

However, the majority of the benefits theft that the report focused on is from the United States, where money can be diverted overseas. In terms of food stamp, or SNAP, benefits, millions of dollars can often be moved to countries where terrorism is a serious problem, including one case where over $1.4 million in fraudulently obtained food stamp money was diverted to Somalia.

“Even with continuing SNAP trafficking investigations, tracing the funds from cases suspected of having links to terrorism remains difficult for financial regulators,” the report reads.

“In a 2001 report after the Sept. 11 attacks, the US Treasury Department identified hawalas (informal money transfer agents) as a ‘fast and cost-effective method for worldwide remittance of money or value, particularly for persons who may be outside the reach of the traditional financial sector … It is therefore difficult to accurately measure the total volume of financial activity associated with the system, however, it is estimated that the figures are in the tens of billions of dollars, at a minimum. Officials in Pakistan, for example, estimate that more than $7 billion flow into the nation through hawala channels each year.'”

“In 2005, the US State Department also noted use of hawalas and underground banking by both terrorists and traffickers, because such systems involve ‘trusted networks that move funds and settle accounts with little or no paper records.’ Some terrorist groups, the report said, also use Islamic banks to move money. Islamic banks operate within Islamic law, which prohibits the payment of interest and certain other activities. Such banks have multiplied across Africa, Asia, the Middle East and, since the 1970s, in Europe as well. While these banks might voluntarily comply with anti-money laundering regulations, there is often no control measure to assure they do so consistently.”

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This form of “welfare jihad” isn’t necessarily germane to the Tsarnaevs, either.

“One example of this is the case of Adnan Fazeli, a refugee from Iran, who settled in Freeport, Maine with his wife and children,” the report stated.

“Fazeli worked several jobs between 2009 and 2013, before he mysteriously boarded a plane to Turkey without his family. He never returned. Documents unsealed in 2016 show what happened to him: Fazeli joined ISIS as a jihadi; he was killed in fighting with Lebanese government forces in January of 2015. During his four years living in Maine, he and his family had lived partially on federal and state welfare programs, supplementing small, sporadic income Fazeli earned as a translator. He also apparently spent a great deal of time self-radicalizing, watching extremist Islamist videos on the internet.”

Then there was Waad Ramadan Alwan, an Iraqi refugee who was connected to Islamic State terrorism by a fingerprint found on an IED. Before his arrest, he had received multiple forms of public assistance. Law enforcement officials found that he had “allegedly supported efforts to kill U.S. troops in Iraq, first by participating in the construction and placement of improvised explosive devices in Iraq and, more recently, by attempting to ship money and weapons from the United States to insurgents in Iraq.”

“Given this history, it is not surprising that terrorists and their acolytes would later target SNAP — with its explosive growth, electronic benefits distribution, ease of access, and lax enforcement problems. In some cases, as we have seen, terrorist supporters were able to operate with near-impunity for years without drawing attention from fraud investigators,” the report concludes.

“Combined with SNAP’s administrative and enforcement shortcomings, its vulnerability and exploitation by those seeking to harm Americans at home and abroad make it a prime candidate for legislative and executive branch reform.”

And one hopes that reform happens in a hurry.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture