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Five Myths about Al Qaeda Terrorist Financing & Money Laundering

... And the facts behind the myths


Terrorist financing is by its nature a mysterious endeavor, and elaborate myths about Al Qaeda's terrorist financing and money laundering abound. Here's the truth about Osama bin Laden's personal fortune, whether blood diamonds funded the September 11, 2001 attacks ... and more.

1. Myth: Osama bin Laden uses his personal fortune to bankroll Al Qaeda

Fact: Al Qaeda has primarily been funded from donations through fundraising. Indeed, according to the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, bin Ladin did not have an inherited $300 million, as is commonly thought: " From about 1970 until 1993 or 1994, Usama Bin Ladin received about a million dollars per year—adding up to a significant sum, to be sure, but not a $300 million fortune. In 1994 the Saudi government forced the Bin Ladin family to find a buyer for Usama’s share of the family company and to place the proceeds into a frozen account. The Saudi freeze had the effect of divesting Bin Ladin of what would otherwise have been a $300 million fortune" (20)

2. Myth: Al Qaeda supports itself through the international drug trade

Fact: According to the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States 2004 Staff Monograph, there is no evidence that Al Qaeda ever traded in drugs. This conclusion is supported by a number of reasons: "al Qaeda members are geographically hemmed in and are unable to travel as the narcotics business demands. Trafficking would unnecessarily expose al Qaeda operatives to risks of detection or arrest .... Established traffickers have no reason to involve al Qaeda in their lucrative businesses; associating with the world’s most hunted men would attract unwanted attention to their activities .... Al Qaeda neither controls territory nor brings needed skills and therefore has no leverage to break into the sector" (p.23).

3. Myth: Al Qaeda has funded itself by trading in blood diamonds

Fact: Despite a comprehensive evaluation of a number of reports, the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States has found no evidence of diamond trading. Individual associates may have dabbled in the trade.

4. Myth: Al Qaeda has the backing of a state

Fact: No state did or does support Al Qaeda. The Bush Administration's implication that Iraq was behind the Al Qaeda attacks was unfounded, as the September 11 Commission concluded in its 2004 report. A more comprehensive 2008 Pentagon report also found no connection between the Saddam Hussein regime and Al Qaeda. There is no evidence of Saudi backing either. Al Qaeda did have a safe haven in Afghanistan under the Taliban.

5. Myth: Al Qaeda has substantial U.S. funding

Al Qaeda collects little money in the United States, according to officials and investigators. Nor is there any evidence that it fundraises with any other group, as rumors suggesting that Hamas, Hizballah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad or other groups share a fundraising mechanism with Al Qaeda.
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