Although the governments of several European countries weren’t exactly willing to corroborate this story, The New York Times reported Tuesday that al-Qaida has made a consistent practice of kidnapping European citizens for ransom, and it has paid off very well.
This funding model is troubling for many reasons, not the least of which is that it has become a self-perpetuating system with built-in growth potential:
In its early years Al Qaeda received most of its money from deep-pocketed donors, but counterterrorism officials now believe the group finances the bulk of its recruitment, training and arms purchases from ransoms paid to free Europeans.
Put more bluntly, Europe has become an inadvertent underwriter of Al Qaeda.
The foreign ministries of France, Switzerland, Austria, Italy and Germany denied in emails or telephone interviews that they had paid the terrorists. “The French authorities have repeatedly stated that France does not pay ransoms,” said Vincent Floreani, deputy director of communication for France’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Several senior diplomats involved in past negotiations have described the decision to ransom their citizens as an agonizing calculation: accede to the terrorists’ demand, or allow innocent people to be killed, often in a gruesome, public way?
[...] And business is booming: 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.
What’s more, various subgroups of al-Qaida are syncing up their efforts and taking captives from a wide geographic swath. One potential positive factor in this worrying trend story, however, is that fewer hostages have been killed in the last half decade, as payment is contingent upon their being released alive.
—Posted by Kasia Anderson
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