Kidnapping Europeans for ransom has become a global business for Al Qaeda, bankrolling its operations across the globe.
While European governments deny paying ransoms, an investigation by The New York Times found that Al Qaeda and its direct affiliates have taken in at least $125 million in revenue from kidnappings since 2008, of which $66 million was paid just in the past year.
In various news releases and statements, the United States Treasury Department has cited ransom amounts that, taken together, put the total at around $165 million over the same period.
These payments were made almost exclusively by European governments, who funnel the money through a network of proxies, sometimes masking it as development aid, according to interviews conducted for this article with 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 by this reporter while on assignment for The Associated Press in northern Mali last year. …
Europe has become an inadvertent underwriter of Al Qaeda.
The foreign ministries of France, Switzerland, Austria, Italy and Germany denied in emails or telephone interviews that they had paid the terrorists. …
Yet the fact that Europe and its intermediaries continue to pay has set off a vicious cycle.