May 5th, 2011
04:44 AM GMT
(CNN) – Diversification. For investors, it helps to hedge against risk in your portfolio. And apparently it’s not that much different for al Qaeda and its funding.
In fact, it’s been key to the organization’s financial health and its ability to grow around the world - despite political, economic and military pressure from the U.S. and its allies since 9/11.
“They [al Qaeda] established a range of sources to support the organization and that is the current state of al Qaeda, so they don’t have to depend on bin Laden,” says Professor Rohan Gunaratna, head of the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism in Singapore.
So even with Osama bin Laden is gone, the terror network he founded will still live on.
That’s because the group has learned to rely on four main sources of funding since the 1990’s: wealthy individual patrons, infiltrated charities, criminal activities and legitimate businesses.
Single donors, Gunaratna said, are often the richest of all of al Qaeda’s funding sources. These are also the people who believe if they just fund a jihad – with someone else doing the killing on their behalf – then they themselves will get to heaven.
Charities infiltrated by terror groups are another revenue stream – and were especially so in the 1990’s when they used to account for up to 60% of al Qaeda’s funds. One such Philippine-based relief organization was actually headed by bin Laden’s brother-in-law, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa.
Criminal activities are a third source of funds and include credit, tax and check fraud. In 2003, The U.K.’s Scotland Yard successfully busted an al Qaeda cell that was producing fake credit cards using information from real people. The weekly profit: 10,000 pounds.
And then there are actual legitimate businesses which take advantage of unsuspecting customers. One ended up being a Yemen-based exporter that sent fruit to Europe. Buyers on the Continent inadvertently became backers of al Qaeda.
But in the post 9/11 world, these financial flows started crumbling as the U.S. and its allies went after al Qaeda and its network. And the group’s funding sources went from being organized to opportunistic.
“A cell associated with al Qaeda was bringing used vehicles and selling those vehicles in Pakistan while working with the Taliban.” Gunaratna added they, “would tax those who would transport drugs and narcotics. Al Qaeda would tax people transporting goods in their vehicles. So they expanded their different businesses to sustain their organization.”
Just because al Qaeda’s traditional funding sources were squeezed after 9/11, this doesn’t mean the group has less money today. And no one would be able to give a true figure of the funds held by the terror network. Very likely the group itself does not know how much it has at any given time.
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