Al-Qaeda's funding sources drying up

Osama bin Laden's death and the impact of the Arab Spring revolutions have caused funding problems for al-Qaeda's leader, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri. [Ho New/Reuters]

Osama bin Laden's death and the impact of the Arab Spring revolutions have caused funding problems for al-Qaeda's leader, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri. [Ho New/Reuters]

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When Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri succeeded slain al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in June 2011, it was clear that he faced a daunting task in rebuilding an organisation suffering from a severe depletion of its ranks as a result of the blows it received, particularly in the Afghanistan - Pakistan border areas.

It was also clear that al-Zawahiri needed to find a solution to the challenge posed by the Arab Spring revolutions. The strength of the demonstrations illustrated that the majority in the Arab street did not support al-Qaeda's policy of advocating change through violence, nor were they convinced of its justifications for attacking the West, as the West stood by the Arab peoples in their quest for greater political freedom.

And now it appears that al-Zawahiri needs to find a solution to another problem, one that most likely started years ago but has been exacerbated by the killing of Bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan in May 2011; specifically, a shortfall in donor funds.

Nine months after Bin Laden's death, not one retaliatory attack has been carried out, which may be a result of the organisation's inability to conduct operations or its unpreparedness to do so at this time. Another reason may be that the myriad of security services in Western and Arab countries are on high alert to prevent possible attacks from occurring.

Another factor delaying or hindering the conduct of attacks could be a shortfall in donor funds to al-Qaeda. This lack of funds may be affecting its ability to make the necessary preparations for large operations that require substantial financing, in addition to the cost of recruiting and training operatives.

Shortfall in donor funds not new

The shortfall in donor funding for al-Qaeda in Waziristan is, in fact, not new. Frequent reports of funding shortfalls have been circulating for years. Al-Zawahiri highlighted the issue explicitly in a June 2005 letter to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the former leader of al-Qaeda's branch in Iraq.

Al-Zawahiri requested that al-Zarqawi transfer a large sum of money ($100,000) to the leadership of the organisation. In his letter, al-Zawahri refers to an interruption in al-Qaeda's funding following the arrest of Abu Faraj al-Libi, a leader in the organisation, even though al-Zawahiri described the organisation's financial status as "good" in general, which means that some funds were still reaching al-Qaeda in Waziristan at the time.

It is not clear if donations to al-Qaeda, which come mostly from supporters in Gulf countries, declined further or increased in the years after this letter was written, but new information from Waziristan does not indicate that the organisation is in a better position militarily or financially.

An Afghani operative who fought alongside al-Qaeda said the organisation's presence in Waziristan has contracted significantly, their ranks thinning to no more than a few dozen individuals. The young Afghan, named Hafez Hanif, told Newsweek in an interview published January 2nd that he sought information about a group of al-Qaeda fighters that he had not heard from since the killing of Bin Laden and found out they were living in dire conditions with their ranks greatly depleted.

While Hanif said "money is a more significant problem [for al-Qaeda] than the thinning of its ranks", the fighter's uncle told the magazine his sources confirm that the organisation's donor funding, which used to be in the millions of dollars each year from Gulf donors, has dried up.

Donor funds go to other causes

It appears that donor funds now go to causes other than those of al-Qaeda's leadership, which has apparently become marginalised and isolated in its Waziristan hideout. Hanif's uncle said he thinks "Arab people now think the fight should be political at home and not terrorism aimed at the West", and that "the peaceful struggle on Arab streets has accomplished more than Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri ever have".

If the information provided by these Afghans is true, it would reinforce the widely held belief that the organisation is at risk of ceasing to be an effective force, as it was in Afghanistan in the years prior to the September 11, 2001 attacks.

This impression was reinforced during the Arab Spring demonstrations, and again following Bin Laden's death. Also, media reports confirmed al-Qaeda's loss of many of its leaders and members in air strikes and clashes with Pakistani forces.

Newsweek's report indicated that al-Qaeda, which once had hundreds of fighters in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border areas, now has no more than a few dozen left in the area, probably including al-Zawahiri and Abu Yahya al-Libi. This paltry number confirms that al-Qaeda has been reduced to a marginal role. The absence of al-Qaeda fighters in the battles being waged by the Pakistani and Afghan branches of the Taliban against the governments of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Western forces is another sign of its weakened position.

The fact that al-Qaeda is facing these problems in Waziristan does not mean the organisation is finished, and it could still carry out a suicide attack to avenge Bin Laden's killing. But even if al-Qaeda succeeds in carrying out a revenge attack, that would probably not signify a fundamental change in its status if the shortfall in fighters and funding continues, and if it remains marginalised amidst the mostly peaceful Arab Spring revolutions.

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  • READER COMMENTS

    عبد الرحمن ماجد

    2012-2-14

    Killing the leading members of the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization means much to the Iraqi citizen, and this news makes the Iraqi citizen feel more secure than ever, because the Iraqi citizen saw many crimes committed by the infidel terrorists and suffered from their crimes in Iraq in the past years. Hence, I believe that this means a great deal to me, because it proves that the Iraqi security forces have the experience in fighting terrorism and the terrorist organizations that used to move as they wished in the streets of Iraq. However, today, the Iraqi security forces threaten terrorism everywhere, because terrorism lost the ability to threaten the life of the civilians, as it did in the past. Therefore, I call for eliminating terrorism and all those who support terrorism or contribute to killing the Iraqi people. We also congratulate the security forces for their good efforts in performing their duties, and we ask God to protect them from all evil and to support them against the enemies of the religion. Amen, O Lord of the worlds.

  • جواد شاكر الفتلاوي

    2012-2-10

    The terrorist al-Qaeda organization is one of the organizations because of which many accusing fingers are pointed at the Gulf countries, saying that they are supporting it. I think that all those who finance and support terrorism in any way are taking part in its acts and criminal directions, and a lot of criminals who lead this organization are from the Gulf countries. Moreover, a lot of leaders or the elements who are killed or arrested are from the Gulf countries. This is one of the disadvantages for which we criticize the Arab Gulf, at the forefront of which is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Gulf countries are working secretly to finance the terrorist al-Qaeda organization in many countries. This support is the basis for crime, because this financing causes all these tragedies to which the innocent people and the civilians are exposed, as a result of the terrorist acts carried out by the elements of the terrorist al-Qaeda organization. This was a disaster for many civilians, whose sufferings were daily and continuous, as a result of the terrorist tragedies which target the civilians and which target the countries and destabilize their security and stability. From this viewpoint, I direct my criticism and condemnation towards the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and towards all the Gulf countries, and towards all those who support or finance terrorism. The Gulf countries should exploit their money and wealth in building their countries and pleasing their people, as well as supporting the countries that live in a state of poverty and famine, rather than financing terrorism and supporting these infidel groups which shed the blood of innocent people who have nothing to do with it. May God shame and disgrace terrorism, its elements and organizations, which have practiced all kinds of crime and blasphemy, which was the reason behind all the problems from which the whole world is suffering.

  • توفيق عدنان

    2012-2-10

    A number of extremist Islamic movements have appeared in Afghanistan, like the Taliban movement and the Islamic Jihad al-Qaeda organization, as well as other movements, especially after the former Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan so as to control it and extend its influence over the rest of the region’s countries. This was a result of the international conflict that was taking place between the great countries, each of which seeks to increase the expansion of its influence so as to control the economic wealth in those countries, as well as taking advantage of it to strengthen the economy of its country.

  • أبو الكل

    2012-2-9

    Al-Qaeda is the first name on the list of infidels and hypocrites. It will so remain. You fools… He, peace be upon him, said: “He makes my sustenance under the shadow of my spear.”

  • ايهاب عوض

    2012-2-8

    May God curse all criminals who belong to al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations, which work on killing innocent people in Iraq and everywhere else in the world. They make people suffer from the lack of security, which should be maintained because without it people don’t feel peace of mind and psychological comfort, and they live in fear and worry because of the surrounding dangers and hardships resulting from the terrorist acts practiced by al-Qaeda and other armed groups in the country. Naturally, man will always seek safety for himself, his family and community. Tolerant Islam stresses the necessity to respect and maintain human rights in order to live a secure life away from any source of threat. It’s not allowable for anyone to kill another unless there is an acceptable reason and Islam even goes further when it considers killing one person to be like killing all people because this act leads to more cases of killing among people, and therefore pushes the community towards collapse and complete inertia to achieve the goals of being God’s successor on earth where he is supposed to work for construction, development, obedience to God as well as the achievement of justice and equality among people. But al-Qaeda terrorists and followers who perpetrate criminal acts are oppressive groups that renounced the teaching of Islam, which preaches good deeds and prohibits evil, and urges love, brotherhood and tolerance among people.

  • علي المرعي

    2012-2-7

    The Al-Qaeda terrorist organization was subjected to the killing of a group of its leaders that spread evil and immorality in the various communities where during the past year a lot of their important leaders were lost in Iraq and Afghanistan. The biggest event of all this was the killing of its leader and money and weapons financier, Osama bin Laden. Then, U.S. forces also launched another raid, which killed a senior leader of al-Qaeda, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman. He was the last of the closest aides to Osama bin Laden; a Libyan citizen whose killing is another large setback to al-Qaeda that had a heavy impact on its new leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, which is the clearest evidence to the importance of this member and his prominent status in al-Qaeda. Some of the information indicated that he was in charge as the second leader of al-Qaeda after al-Zawahiri. Atiyah Abd al-Rahman was linked to an extensive network of contacts with different branches of al-Qaeda in the world. It is clear that he was not an ordinary person in the hierarchy of the organization and al-Zawahiri has relied on Atiyah Abd al-Rahman in the implementation of new attacks through which he wanted to assure the whole world that al-Qaeda still has the power, the initiative and the ability to launch attacks all the time. That the killing of bin Laden did not affect the work of al-Qaeda, but was a further blow to destabilize their entity, namely the miserable death of Abdul Rahman Al-Attiya who was second in command in this organization and the mastermind of the terrorist attacks against innocent people. This strike came at a time when al-Qaeda has not yet recovered from the death of its former leader Osama bin Laden, in light of the speeches by some of the leaders that exposure of bin Laden will lead to a series of reprisals.

  • اسعد جابر

    2012-2-6

    Of course, all works depend mainly on funding. If there were no money or financial support being provided by a particular country or body, all al-Qaeda activities would stop and it wouldn’t be able to survive moving from one place to another. There was a time when they committed armed robberies and thefts in public. Through these acts, they can purchase weapons or whatever they need to help them carry out their dirty acts. If al-Qaeda prominent leaders can’t secure money, they couldn’t operate at all. In my opinion, any honorable man who is aware of al-Qaeda’s killing of innocent people all over the world, whether they are Muslims or non-Muslims, should stop providing these terrorists with money and weapons. And then their power will gradually diminish and they will vanish, God willing, because they have no place among Muslims and the entire nation. God will hopefully weaken their strength because their acts are merely based on killing, slaughtering and bombing the innocent. I pray to God to disappoint their hope, destroy them and make their enmity among them very great. Arab and Muslim nation and the whole world will have security and safety, God willing. As long as there is no funding al-Qaeda will continue to be weak and it will never be able to move. I hope no one will support it anymore. Even those who are supporting them will stop doing so. God is with truth and it will be revealed. God willing, al-Qaeda’s final destination will be destruction, Amen.

  • مسعود

    2012-2-6

    Funding is not extremely important, but what is far more important is the death of al-Qaeda leaders. Funding can be obtained from any person whomsoever, and from anybody working with them. The death and arrest of leaders are very important. Al-Qaeda has been shaken, especially after the death of Osama bin Laden and Abdel Rahman bin Atiya, bin Laden’s right hand. However, it is still operating, but poorly. People who suffer from the presence of al-Qaeda terrorists in their country should do their utmost to get rid of them because their power has been weakened and they don’t work as actively as before. It is the key leaders who give commands and lay out all needed plans and training to carry out suicide bombing, killing and slaughtering acts. After the killing of Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda activities have decreased and this is an opportunity for all citizens of all nationalities. Everyone should break their silence and challenge al-Qaeda’s stupid and despicable acts.

  • شفيع نصر

    2012-2-4

    Al Qaeda has been uncovered to the people everywhere. Those religious slogans raised by al Qaeda can no longer deceive ordinary citizens, because they have seen with their own eyes the acts that al Qaeda does. Such acts are contrary to religion and morality. Consequently, al Qaeda lost its popular element of attraction for it and for its members, and nobody accepts the existence of al Qaeda on its territory. That is why I find that al-Qaeda will not be able to withstand the great tide of all the countries which have declared war on terrorism, particularly al-Qaeda as the largest wing of global terrorism at present.

  • عباس عساف

    2012-2-2

    The Al-Qaeda terrorist organization is starting to fall in Iraq day after day. Its end is inevitable and coming very soon, especially after the collapse of the organization's leaders one after another, thanks to the bravery of our security forces and heroic army. They managed to kill those criminals, who are considered the worst and most dangerous kind of killers and terrorists.

  • عراق الابطال

    2012-2-1

    A lot of things have changed and today, terrorism has gotten away from the possibility of involvement in suicidal attempts on Iraq or sending other jihadist elements to participate with them in their crimes, in addition to their lack of funding and also the killing and capture of the big leaders of these dogs. This is why terrorism is collapsing in such a fast way in Iraq, because the Iraqi people never believed that problems and disputes could be solved through this criminal method.

  • وهاب عبدالقادر

    2012-2-1

    There are many reasons that caused the terrorist organization of al-Qaeda to suffer a lot of problems, which made it suffer its inevitable downfall, God willing, especially since this degraded organization’s cells and branches scattered across many countries in the world are suffering painful blows. This leads to the death of a lot of its leaders, who were always in the forefront and represented the integrated network of the leadership in the world. The most important of these blows, which had a great impact on al-Qaeda and indicated its collapse, was the death of the world’s head of terrorism and evil, Osama bin Laden, in Pakistan in an airstrike by the American forces. This had a direct effect on the magnitude of the organization’s operations, because he was the one who gave orders to all his followers. In addition, the past few months witnessed the killing of many al-Qaeda leaders, such as Anwar al-Awlaqi and other cutthroats, who were considered the masterminds of this terrorist organization. I think that these successive blows hugely impacted and demoralized al-Qaeda, and threw it into a state of depression and collapse, as a lot of its plans were foiled. Also, the collapse of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Afghanistan and many anti-terrorism countries played a great role in weakening it; and today, it is going through its worst conditions.

  • Aljaf

    2012-1-31

    The death of Osama bin Laden last year severely damaged al Qaeda’s finances and left the shadowy network struggling to survive in the mountains of Pakistan and Afghanistan.