Kidnapping Europeans for ransom has become a global business for Al Qaeda, bankrolling its operations across the globe, the New York Times reports. While European governments deny paying ransoms, the Times says Al Qaeda and its direct affiliates have received at least $125 million in revenue from kidnappings since 2008, of which $66 million was paid just last year. The U.S. Treasury Department has cited ransom amounts that, taken together, put the total at around $165 million over the same period.
The payments were made almost exclusively by European governments, who funneled the money through a network of proxies, sometimes masking it as development aid, say former hostages, negotiators, diplomats and government officials in 10 countries in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. The inner workings of the kidnapping business were also revealed in thousands of pages of internal Qaeda documents found in Mali. Al Qaeda formerly got 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.