We’re still trying to grapple with the newest, richest terror state in history seizing a fortune in cash, plus military equipment, from conquered Iraqi territory. Now we learn Europe has been pouring millions of ransom dollars into the hands of hostage-taking terrorists. The New York Times writes that “kidnapping Europeans for ransom has become a global business for al-Qaeda, bankrolling its operations across the globe.”
While European governments deny paying ransoms, an investigation by The New York Times found that Al Qaeda and its direct affiliates have taken in at least $125 million in revenue from kidnappings since 2008, of which $66 million was paid just last year.
In news releases and statements, the United States Treasury Department has cited ransom amounts that, taken together, put the total at around $165 million over the same period.
These payments were made almost exclusively by European governments, who funneled the money through a network of proxies, sometimes masking it as development aid, according to interviews conducted for this article with former hostages, negotiators, diplomats and government officials in 10 countries in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. The inner workings of the kidnapping business were also revealed in thousands of pages of internal Qaeda documents found by this reporter while on assignment for The Associated Press in northern Mali last year.
European officials are trying to downplay the scope of these ransom payments, while al-Qaeda bigwigs… aren’t.
While in 2003 the kidnappers received around $200,000 per hostage, now they are netting up to $10 million, money that the second in command of Al Qaeda’s central leadership recently described as accounting for as much as half of his operating revenue.
“Kidnapping hostages is an easy spoil,” wrote Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, “which I may describe as a profitable trade and a precious treasure.”
The stream of income generated is so significant that internal documents show that as long as five years ago, Al Qaeda’s central command in Pakistan was overseeing negotiations for hostages grabbed as far afield as Africa. Moreover, the accounts of survivors held thousands of miles apart show that the three main affiliates of the terrorist group — Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, in northern Africa; Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, in Yemen; and the Shabab, in Somalia — are coordinating their efforts and abiding by a common kidnapping protocol.
Terrorists with manpower, material, and money are a serious threat. But let’s forget about all that, and soothe ourselves by replaying some of those Obama speeches from 2012 where he boasted that al-Qaeda was “decimated” and “on the run,” making the world safer than ever.