Documents offer rare day-to-day insight into al-Qaeda’s finances
December 31, 2013 2 Comments
By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A remarkable set of documents found in western Africa offers a fascinating insight into the day-to-day running of al-Qaeda. The papers, obtained by the Associated Press (AP) earlier this year, reveal a highly bureaucratic organization that meticulously documents even the minutest expenses incurred by its members. The documents were produced and left behind by fighters belonging to the al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) when they took over the city of Timbuktu, situated on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert in the West African nation of Mali. The AP had the documents, which include over 100 receipts written in Arabic, authenticated by experts, before posting them online, here. Analysts who spoke to the news agency said the papers show that al-Qaeda is the furthest thing from “a fly-by-night, fragmented terror organization” that conducts its financial affairs “on the back of envelopes”. Rather, they reveal a group that operates “like a multinational corporation”, with a “rigid bureaucracy” consisting of chief executives, directors’ boards, as well as clearly demarcated departments that include human resources and public relations. According to the AP, the AQIM documents found in Timbuktu include “corporate workshop schedules, salary spreadsheets, philanthropy budgets, job applications, public relations advice and letters from the equivalent of a human resources division”. Perhaps most impressively, while occupying Timbuktu, the AQIM militants appear to have gone out of their way to purchase, rather than expropriate, goods from local shopkeepers and merchants. Additionally, they went to great pains to record their cash flow, meticulously noting down purchases as small as a light bulb, a cake, or a bar of soap. The AP analysis suggests that the documents found in Timbuktu confirm what counterterrorism researchers have found in al-Qaeda’s other operational domains, in places such as Somalia, Iraq or Afghanistan. The meticulous attention to financial accountability dates back to the founding of the organization in the late 1980s by Osama bin Laden. The latter applied American- and Japanese-inspired techniques of corporate management, which he had experienced at his fathers’ immensely successful construction company in his native Saudi Arabia. The AP piece includes a quote by a Timbuktu shopkeeper, who said al-Qaeda fighters wanted receipts even “for the smallest thing” they purchased at his store, “even for a tin of Nescafe”. In other stores around Timbuktu, where vendors did not hand out receipts to customers, AQIM members would purchase items in pairs —one was there “to negotiate the sale, and the other to record prices on a notepad”.