Is al-Qaeda running out of money?
Matthew Levitt, writing in the West Point counterterrorism review, Sentinel, notes that donations to al-Qaeda ain't what they used to be.
Speaking before congress in February, Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Michael McConnell commented that during the previous 12-18 months the intelligence community noticed that “al Qaeda has had difficulty in raising funds and sustaining themselves.” In early April, Undersecretary of the Treasury Stuart Levey echoed the DNI’s assessment, adding that the government’s efforts to combat terrorist financing “are more integrated than ever before” and have enabled the government to disrupt or deter some sources of al-Qa`ida financing and make “significant progress mapping terrorist networks.” A Philippine military official, for example, recently disclosed that lack of funding was a major factor hindering the al-Qa`ida-linked Abu Sayyaf terrorist group from carrying out major attacks, the last of which was conducted in 2005.
The question is why. And the answers are several.
Three straightforward reasons for al-Qaeda's financial decline are the crackdown on "charitable" organization, pressure on major individual donors and the disruption of their networks.
The reverse directional flow of funds appears to support the assessment that the al-Qa`ida leadership is increasingly unable to fund itself. Indeed, anecdotal evidence that has come to light sporadically during the past few years suggests that the al-Qa`ida leadership has been impecunious for some time. In his July 2005 letter to Abu Mus`ab al-Zarqawi, Ayman al-Zawahiri humbly asked the leader of al-Qa`ida in Iraq if he could spare “a payment of approximately one hundred thousand” because “many of the lines have been cut off.” Similarly, in May 2007, al-Qa`ida leader in Afghanistan Shaykh Sa`id Mustafa Abu’l-Yazid highlighted the group’s desperate need for funds.
Would al-Qaeda have been reduced to dire straits if their attacks had continued, unanswered, across the world? Would their donation base have dried up unless it was being effectively targeted? Would it's coffers not be more full if it was indeed, as has often been alleged, it is "winning" not only in Iraq but all over the world?
Perhaps the simple truth is that al-Qaeda is losing supporters because the average supporter realizes it is losing. People tend to put their money where their mind is. Perhaps one of the reason al-Qaeda is mustering for a new round of spectacular attacks in Iraq (for which the Coalition is prepared) is because they need to put on a show. Only one thing is certain: there will be no shortage of coverage for their despicable attempts. Yet despite the ample coverage of the past they have declined. And despite the ample coverage in the future, they may decline some more.
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