LONDON: A Daesh fundraising operation based in the UK seeking to free Western jihadi brides from Syrian refugee camps has been exposed by the Mail on Sunday newspaper.
Undercover journalists spoke with a “fixer” in Turkey before exposing a “courier” in London collecting what he thought was a £4,500 ($5,987) donation to the operation.
But the brown envelope hidden at the “dead drop” by undercover journalists contained only a crossword book. In response to the revelations, London’s Metropolitan Police have opened an investigation.
The Syrian camps targeted by the operation for escape bids include Al-Hol, where Shamima Begum, who fled Britain aged 15 to join Daesh, was held.
A report last week revealed the existence of an Instagram group called Caged Pearls, run by British women detained in Al-Hol who are raising money to finance their escape from the camps.
The page promotes awareness of its mission through a poster reading: “Al-Hol — The cradle of the new Caliphate.”
One woman raising funds in the camp was named as “Sumaya Holmes,” who had been smuggled out of the camp and traveled to Turkey.
Holmes is said to be the widow of a British Daesh fighter who died in Syria, and the current wife of a Bosnian extremist serving jail time in his home country.
Holmes asks for donations on her Facebook page and posts pictures of women holding up posters begging for help.
One poster said: “I am a sister from camp Al-Hol and I need $6,000 so that I can escape from PKK (the Kurdistan Workers’ Party). Please, I ask everyone to help me and donate as much as they can.”
Holmes captioned the image: “This is my friend and she is in need of help. She sent me this photo yesterday. Please, even if you can’t help, pass it to those who can donate to her.”
Another image posted by Holmes shows a woman holding a piece of paper that says: “I am your Muslim sister in Al-Hol camp. I need help from my brothers and sisters to be freed from the hands of the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces). I need $7,000 to be able to get out with my children.” The message added: “You can trust Sumaya Holmes on Facebook, she is trying to help me raise money needed.”
A Mail on Sunday reporter posed as a drug dealer who had converted to Islam. They messaged Holmes on Facebook to offer support and money.
Holmes then requested to communicate on Telegram, an encrypted messaging app favored by extremists and criminals for its high levels of security and privacy.
She asked for a Bitcoin donation but the undercover reporter declined. She then suggested making a bank deposit in an associate’s account in Jordan, and then hawala, an Islamic method of transferring money that uses a broker system. But the undercover journalist declined again.
Holmes finally provided details of a man called “Anas” in London who could collect funds in person. When an offer to donate was made, Holmes accepted.
In the meantime, she had been actively posting her support for Daesh on Facebook. In one post, she described the Chechen who beheaded teacher Samuel Paty last month as a “hero.”
In London, a second undercover reporter set up a meeting with “Anas” to deliver cash for the operation.
But the reporter changed the plan and left an envelope containing only a crossword book at the agreed-upon location.
As the journalists watched carefully, a man wearing a white crash helmet soon arrived on a scooter.
He found the package and messaged the reporter: “File received, let me check the money and tell you.”
He soon discovered the ruse, telling the undercover reporter: “There are no money in the envelope, there is only a book? It seems that you are not serious about your subject.”
When confronted again, “Anas” denied any involvement in the exchange, which would be illegal under British law had the envelope contained cash. “No, no, I don’t take anything, you are wrong,” he said.
Later, Holmes also denied her involvement. “That’s not true, good luck with publishing your lies,” she said.
The latest estimates suggest that about 300 of the 900 Britons who traveled to Syria to join Daesh are back on British streets.
Dr. Vera Mironova, a Daesh expert and research fellow at Harvard University, said: “To escape from the camps costs about $18,000 and the success of these campaigns shows the sheer amount Daesh are able to raise online.”
She added: “Once the women are smuggled out, it is impossible to monitor them. The women who collect money online are still with Daesh and are trusted and supported by members worldwide. They work with a network of supporters globally.”