Al Qaeda Accounting Methods Meticulous, Unchanged for Decades

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Shortly after the death of Osama bin Laden, TIME published a report looking into the question of whether or not his death would “bankrupt” the terror group al Qaeda. Only that question had been answered years before in the “Monograph on Terrorist Financing” that had been presented to the 9/11 Commission in early 2004. They found that al Qaeda was a vast and advanced almost-corporation that moved tens of millions of dollars per year (and that the 9/11 attacks cost only $500,000, a tiny part of their overall budget). 

A report published in POLITICO Magazine on Sunday highlights that even with their “charismatic” leader gone almost three years, “2013 was a good year for al Qaeda.” The report details local victories throughout Africa and the Middle East. Also relevant is the varied perception of the group across the world. Specifically in Syria where al Qaeda militants are fighting alongside U.S.-backed rebels.

A recent report from The Associated Press details the meticulous accounting practices of the terror network that paints a much different picture than those in the government who suggest that al Qaeda is on the precipice of “defeat.” The AP obtained financial documents that showed al Qaeda accounted for every expense, including grocery items like cake and mustard. These accounting methods have been in place for “more than three decades” and “is part of al Qaeda’s DNA.”

In the aforementioned Monograph, it was reavealed that al Qaeda relied on couriers and cash in even the years before 9/11, which means that advanced U.S. methods of freezing assets had little impact on how the terror group operates. Also, al Qaeda adapts quickly and with the focus in recent years on their top leadership they seem to be operating with more autonomy at the unit level, while not abandoning the practices (e.g. accounting) that made the group successful.