Al-Qaeda has been getting a hefty payday from Europe over the past six years.
The New York Times reports that al-Qaeda has raised at least $125 million from European governments in ransom payments. The Treasury Department thinks the number is even higher, closer to $165 million.
France was the country that paid the most money to al-Qaeda groups, with $58.1 million. Qatar and Oman were second at $20.4 million, followed by Switzerland, Spain and Austria. The United States and Britain are countries that refuse to pay ransom to terrorists.
Noticing the pattern, al-Qaeda has targeted potential hostages based on nationality. The Times found that about 33% of the terror group’s hostages were French and about 20% were from small countries like Austria, Switzerland and Spain. In contrast, only 5% of the hostages were from the U.S. or Britain.
David Cohen, the Treasury Department’s under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a 2012 speech that “kidnapping for ransom has become today’s most significant source of terrorist financing” and “each transaction encourages another transaction.”
Former al-Qaeda hostages described a process in which the Islamic terrorist group would kidnap them, have them make sporadic phone calls and video messages whenever they felt like attention was needed.
Al-Qaeda would threaten to kill their hostages if the ransom money wasn’t paid. However, the Times concluded that only 15% of the terror group’s hostages had died, mainly from failed rescue operations. In fact, when hostages were sick, al-Qaeda treated them.
One hostage, Atte Kaleva, said that al-Qaeda gave him medicine when he became sick with what he thought was a giardia infection.
“We are more valuable to them alive than dead,” Kaleva told the Times.
But al-Qaeda would execute hostages if governments refused to pay. In one case, Edwin Dyer, a British hostage who was kidnapped at a Mali music festival, was executed back in May 2009 when Britain refused to pay. Al-Qaeda had given Britain a 15-day extension before executing Dyer.
Kidnappers today typically receive about $10 million per hostage, as opposed to the $200,000 per hostage back in 2003.
France, Italy, Austria, Germany and Switzerland have all denied that they have paid ransom money.
However, after Dyer was executed, Swiss and German hostages were released after al-Qaeda was paid €8 million. The Swiss had voted on a budget that, according to an official, “suddenly had an extra line for humanitarian aid for Mali.”
“They pay ransoms and then deny any was paid,” Vicki Huddleston, the former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs, told The Times. “The danger of this is not just that it grows the terrorist movement, but it makes all of our citizens vulnerable.”
(h/t: The Washington Times)