Bin Laden’s gone, but what about al Qaeda’s finances?

As the world absorbs the news of Osama bin Laden’s death, government warnings of counter strikes show that the death of one man won’t kill al Qaeda. One reason: the terrorist group doesn’t need bin Laden for money.

“There are two things a brother must always have for jihad, the self and money.” — An al Qaeda operative

This truism is cited by none other than the 9/11 Commission in the detailed report that it published in 2004. One of the first and most important chapters in that document looks at how al Qaeda raises cash and moves it to its operatives around the world, weaving a financial web that the Commission said “allows the organization to support itself, its operations, and its people.”

“You can’t run a terror network without funding because it takes money to train operatives, transport them, and buy equipment,” Thomas Kean, the former New Jersey governor who chaired the Commission, tells Fortune. “When you cut off those supplies, it becomes very difficult to operate.”

Contrary to popular opinion, the death of bin Laden does not strike a blow to the organization’s financial health. “[Osama bin Laden] Does not support al Qaeda through a personal fortune or a network of businesses,” the Commission wrote in its report.

“Al Qaeda relied on fund-raising before 9/11 to a greater extent than thought at the time,” the Commission wrote. “Bin Laden did not have large sums of inherited money or extensive business resources. Rather, it appears that al Qaeda lived essentially hand to mouth.”

And yet the myth has persisted that bin Laden has been the organization’s financial pillar. This is likely because he was the son of a billionaire who used a portion of his inheritance to start al Qaeda in the 1980s and he nurtured it to become, in the words of the New York Times, “a multinational enterprise to export terror around the globe.”

But by 2004, al Qaeda financed itself by raising money from “witting and unwitting donors, mosques and sympathetic imams, and nongovernment organizations such as charities,” says the report. Intelligence reports reveal a financial web that is nearly impossible to track, as the money is distributed as fast as it is raised by a network of couriers. Each strand in the web is taken down and distributed as fast as it is woven. There is no war chest to discover and no bank from which al Qaeda draws funds.

The reality of how al Qaeda actually survives has kept intelligence officials and operatives in other countries fighting to stay one step ahead of the organization. “One lesson of 9/11 was that you can’t fight the last war,” says Kean. “We talk about a failure of imagination on 9/11 because the terrorists did something we never imagined they would do. The way they raise money is no different.”

This game of whack-a-mole has changed global finance. Banks now must take responsibility for knowing who their customers are and for sussing out unusual behavior.

Kean says the Treasury has used its powers to disrupt the flow of money to al Qaeda, including tracking down individual financial deals.

But it hasn’t stopped terrorism.

“A lot of what al Qaeda is doing now doesn’t require a lot of money, like recruiting people over the Internet,” says Kean, who notes that the amounts seem to have gotten smaller since 9/11. “That huge 9/11 operation only took $500,000 maximum.”

Bin Laden’s death is an important moral blow to al Qaeda, but it is less of a blow to the organization’s lifeline.

By Katie Benner (CNN MONEY)


U.S. Kills Osama Bin Laden In Daring Pakistan Raid

President Barack Obama announced late Sunday night that U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, during a Sunday morning raid against his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The  al Qaeda leader was killed during a firefight and his body was retrieved by U.S. troops, who suffered no casualties, Obama reported. “The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al Qaeda,” the President said in his 10 minute televised address.

The successful raid took place almost a decade after the 2001 attacks, which took nearly 3,000 lives in New York City’s World Trade Towers, the Pentagon, and aboard four hijacked U.S. commercial flights.   “We can say to those families who have lost loved ones to al Qaeda’s terror:  Justice has been done,” Obama said.

Even before the President made his official announcement at 11:35 EST, word of bin Laden’s death had spread through Washington, to foreign capitals and around the Internet. U.S. bases were put on high alert against possible reprisal attacks, while a cheering, chanting crowd began gathering outside the White House.

In a briefing after the President’s announcement, senior administration officials said that Obama authorized the raid Friday morning after months of planning and after five National Security Council meetings, beginning on March 14th, held to discuss the operation.  The high risk raid was carried out by a small U.S. team that landed in helicopters, with no advance notice to the Pakistani or any other government.  One helicopter had unspecified problems and was destroyed on the ground by the U.S. forces, they said. (The officials declined to identify the forces, but the mission was reportedly carried out by two dozen Navy Seals.)

In addition to bin Laden, three other men, including one of bin Laden’s sons, and one woman who was “used as a shield by a male combatant,” were killed, they said.  Two other women in the compound were injured during the operation which lasted “under 40 minutes” and was completed without local police authorities noticing, the officials reported.  One official added that the body of the 54-year-old bin Laden would be “handled in accordance with Islamic practice and tradition.” (Update: CNN reported at 3 A.M. Monday morning that bin Laden had been buried at sea.)

According to the officials, U.S. intelligence agents had been following the trail that ultimately led to bin Laden for four years, after learning from detainees that there was one courier whom the al Qaeda leader particularly trusted.   Two years ago, they identified areas where that courier was operating and last August located the compound where he was living with his family, his brother’s family and a third, unidentified family. (The two brothers were the third and fourth men killed, the official said.)

As the U.S. investigated that compound, “we were shocked by what we saw,” one official said. The property,  located in an affluent suburb  “with lots of retired military’’ 35 miles north of Islamabad, was roughly eight times larger than other homes in the area and was secured by 12 to 18 foot walls, topped by barbed wired. While valued at $1 million, the compound had no telephone or Internet service. The compound’s residents burned their trash, rather than putting it out to be collected, as neighbors did.  Although the compound was built at the end of a dirt road in 2005, the area  has since become more developed, they said.  It is unclear how long bin Laden himself had been hiding there.

“It was custom built to hide someone of significance,’’ one official said. The third family living in the compound appeared to match bin Laden’s family, with a woman believed to be his youngest wife and some other family members.  The compound “was perfectly consistent with what we expected” his hideout to be like, the official added.  “The bottom line,’’ he said, was “we had high confidence that the compound harbored a high value target and there was a strong possibility that the terrorist who was hiding there was Osama bin Laden.’’ After intelligence operatives concluded in February that this was most likely bin Laden’s compound,  U.S. forces began planning and practicing the operation.

During the briefing, one administration official observed that while “al Qaeda may not fragment immediately,”  the death of  bin Laden “puts the group on a path of decline that will be difficult to reverse.”

In his address, Obama said that “shortly after taking office, I directed Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, to make the killing or capture of bin Laden the top priority of our war against al Qaeda, even as we continued our broader efforts to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat his network.”

While the raid was carried out without advance notice to the Pakistanis, in his statement, Obama credited “our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan” with helping  “lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding.”  But the fact that bin Laden was hiding in a densely populated suburb, and not a remote tribal area or cave, will likely feed speculation that some elements within the Pakistani intelligence service or military were aware of his presence there.

It is unclear what the reaction  to the operation will be within Pakistan, although some Pakistanis will no doubt be unhappy about U.S. military action on their soil. “Over the years, I’ve repeatedly made clear that we would take action within Pakistan if we knew where bin Laden was,” Obama said. He added: “Tonight I called (Pakistani) President Zardari, and my team has also spoken with their Pakistani counterparts.  They agree that this is a good and historic day for both of our nations.  And going forward, it is essential that Pakistan continue to join us in the fight against al Qaeda and its affiliates.” Obama also called former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton before making his announcement.

The death of bin Laden, Obama said, “does not mark the end of our effort.  There’s no doubt that al Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us.  We must –- and we will — remain vigilant at home and abroad.”  He added that as the the U.S. pursues terrorists, “we must also reaffirm that the United States is not –- and never will be -– at war with Islam.  I’ve made clear, just as President Bush did shortly after 9/11, that our war is not against Islam.  Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims.  Indeed, al Qaeda has slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries, including our own.  So his demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.”

Source: Forbes

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