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You’re worth $5.4m!
If governments really want to destroy terror organizations, then they need to immediately stop funding them in the name of ransom payments

The recent allegation by Vicki Huddleston, a former US ambassador to Mali – that France paid $17 million ransom two years ago to get French hostages freed and that money ended up with al-Qaeda linked Islamic militants – has reignited the key debate on below the line payments to terrorists from governments or related agencies. In the now famous February interview with iTele, a French television network, Huddleston alleged that “although governments deny that they’re paying ransoms, everyone is pretty much aware that money has passed hands indirectly through different accounts and it ends up in the treasury, let us say, of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and allows them to buy weapons and recruit.” She further claimed that it was this money that enabled al-Qaeda to develop its North African network considerably. However, the French foreign ministry claimed post-haste that Huddleston’s statements were based on mere rumours. The quick dismissal of Huddleston’s charges by the French itself was surprising, given the fact that she was the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Africa during the time this payment was supposed to have been made.

It’s a no-brainer that terror organisations need funding to promote their activities. It’s also a no-brainer that some of the very entities fighting these terror organisations capitulate at key instances and end up paying moneys to such organisations – whether due to ransom negotiations or due to counter terror measures, like the purchase of intelligence from so-called intelligence moles within the targeted organisations. In October last year, David S. Cohen, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence in the US Treasury Department highlighted that the average ransom payment to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (known as AQIM) has increased to $5.4 million per hostage in 2011 from $4.5 million in 2010. Adam Nossiter of The New York Times reported in December 2012 that AQUM “amassed as much as $90 million or more in ransoms over the past decade, turning it into one of the region’s wealthiest, best-armed militant groups.”

A report The £1 billion hostage trade by Esme McAvoy and David Randall estimated that around $1.5 billion ransom had been in circulation globally by the end of 2010. “The US does not negotiate with terrorists.” If you thought that line was the sacrosanct policy of the US government, think again. Last year, ABC news reported that the US government was involved in a $300,000 ransom payment to the Abu Sayyaf rebel group in the Philippines in its endeavour to free American missionary couple Martin and Gracia Burnham by their radical Islamic captors in 2002. In the same light, a US cable circulated by the anti-secrecy site WikiLeaks in the beginning of 2011 revealed that Canadian diplomats Robert Fowler and Louis Guay were released in April 2009 “in return for a ransom payment” to al-Qaeda in the central African country of Niger.

Amidst all, Somali pirates have continued to be another source of income for terror activities. In 2009, Lord Jopling – an advisor to NATO who authored the Nato report The Growing Threat Of Piracy – commented that while people have started suspecting terror groups as getting involved in piracy, governments are not investigating the suspected relationship. In one key example, John. R. Bolton wrote in Washington Times in October 2011, “Numerous sources already indicate that [Somali terror organisation] al-Shabab derives revenues from the pirates, or perhaps al-Shabab is engaging in piracy directly.” The 14-nation Piracy Ransom Task Force (PRTF) reported that pirates have received around $300 million as ransom since 2008. If several reports are to be believed, then British hostage Judith Tebbut was released by pirates after a ransom payment of £600,000.

In other words, the fact is that if global speak against terrorism matches the actual intent and action, then terror organisations globally could soon find their sources of funding drying up, at least from the very governments which are fighting them. Of course, global narcotics trade will remain a supreme source of funding for such terror organisations. Then again, that is another story for another day.

By:- Amir Hossain

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