If you’re afraid of raising your blood pressure, you probably shouldn’t read two articles out today, in both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, about how Europeans are subsidizing al-Qaeda with millions of dollars in ransom paid for the release of their hostages.
The Times account by reporter Rukmini Callimachi is particularly detailed and especially enraging. It reports that al-Qaeda and its affiliates have earned $125 million to $165 million since 2008 in kidnapping ransoms. “These payments were made almost exclusively by European governments, who funneled the money through a network of proxies, sometimes masking it as development aid.”
This has now become the major source of funding for three al-Qaeda affiliates in particular: al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (North Africa), al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (Yemen), and Shabab (Somalia). “Put more bluntly,” Callimachi writes, “Europe has become an inadvertent underwriter of Al Qaeda.”
These al-Qaeda affiliates have stopped routinely killing Western hostages as al-Qaeda in Iraq used to do, because it is so much more lucrative to keep them alive. In fact these al-Qaeda groups coordinate their hostage-taking procedures, often helped by al-Qaeda central in Pakistan, with the actual pick-up of hostages contracted out to criminal gangs and with everyone along the way (including hostage negotiators) receiving a cut of the profits. This is big business, “and business is booming: While in 2003 the kidnappers received around $200,000 per hostage, now they are netting up to $10 million, money that the second in command of Al Qaeda’s central leadership recently described as accounting for as much as half of his operating revenue.”
Only the U.S. and Britain, it seems, are refusing to play along. While President Obama released Taliban prisoners in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the U.S. is not willing to pay money for hostages. Thus U.S. and British captives can expect to be killed or held indefinitely. But their principled stance has no impact in discouraging hostage-taking because the kidnappers know that the European states are such easy marks.
It’s hard to better the summary provided by a former U.S. ambassador to Mali, Vicki Huddleston. “The Europeans have a lot to answer for,” she told the Times. “It’s a completely two-faced policy. They pay ransoms and then deny any was paid.” She added, “The danger of this is not just that it grows the terrorist movement, but it makes all of our citizens vulnerable.”
And just when I thought I could not get any more disgusted with European policy–it’s bad enough that they subsidize Vladimir Putin, subsidizing al-Qaeda is even worse.