x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Al Qa'eda turns to kidnapping to raise cash, US says

A financial squeeze has hurt al Qa'eda, forcing it to search for alternative funding sources, as the group's affiliates target diplomats, tourists and merchants.

WASHINGTON // Al Qa'eda's core organisation in Pakistan has turned to kidnapping for ransom to offset dwindling cash reserves, according to US officials and information in files retrieved from Osama bin Laden's compound.

Bin Laden's interest in kidnapping as a cash-raiser bolsters accounts that a financial squeeze has hurt al Qa'eda, forcing it to search for alternative funding sources. Officials would not detail al Qa'eda's role in specific crimes, but the group's affiliates have targeted diplomats, tourists and merchants.

Bin Laden's awareness of al Qa'eda's growing use of kidnapping is evidence that even in isolation in Pakistan, he kept tabs on how his network moved its money. US Navy seals killed bin Laden on May 2.

Experts from the CIA's National Counterterrorism Centre, the Treasury Department, the FBI and the military are trying to learn more from the recovered files about al Qa'eda's money sources and the impact of bin Laden's death on the group's financial future. They hope to identify important al Qa'eda donors, especially wealthy figures in the Gulf region.

The Treasury Department's acting undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, David Cohen, said US efforts are focused on disrupting al Qa'eda's cash flow from donors, fund-raisers and facilitators. "Al Qa'eda's supporters ought to be wondering if their identities have been revealed," Mr Cohen said.

Analysts are examining lists of numbers found in bin Laden's files, hoping to find bank accounts, credit cards or ledgers depicting the financial underpinnings of a network known to demand strict accounting from its operatives.

Al Qa'eda's leadership inside Pakistan rarely championed kidnappings publicly and was not known previously to support its use widely as a funding source. The group historically relied on donations through a pipeline of couriers and money-changing operations.

At the time of the September 11 attacks the network took in as much as US$30 million (Dh11m) a year, but that money flow has tightened, said Congressman CA "Dutch" Ruppersberger of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee.