In order to effectively carry out their destructive missions, modern terrorists and jihadists are dependent upon financial support from a host of varied sources. Post-9/11, President Bush pledged to dry up those funding reservoirs through the efforts of the CIA, the FBI, the Treasury Department, and the Department of Homeland Security. Today those agencies are tasked with obtaining information by way of liaison to foreign countries' intelligence agencies and banking establishments; this requires assistance from the State Department. The agencies also seek to intercept electronic communications to and from terrorists, and in this they are aided by the Pentagon and the National Security Agency.
The vast majority of money transfers to terrorists are accomplished by electronic means. Years ago, these electronic systems were relatively unsophisticated and thus were easy for intelligence and law-enforcement officials to monitor; that is no longer the case. Today’s systems are protected by complex, highly encrypted security software, making money transfers to terrorists extraordinarily difficult to track. Such software, along with covert tradecraft and the use of multiple accounts in a myriad of international banking and financial institutions, can preclude any but the most persistent, careful analyst from finding the money trail.
Some fundraisers for terrorists are academics or private citizens; the case of Sami al-Arian and Palestinian Islamic Jihad's bankrolling of Hamas is one example. But by far the largest contributors to Islamic terror enterprises are worldwide Muslim charities. Among the more notable ones in recent years have been the Benevolence International Foundation, Human Appeal International, the International Islamic Relief Organization, the Muslim World League, Rabita Trust, Help the Needy, the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, the Islamic American Relief Agency, and KindHearts. The latter four are (or were) located in the United States.
Such charities have been legally challenged, investigated, and in some cases prosecuted, for funneling money illegally to the bank accounts of al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. The most prominent supporter of these charities is the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi infiltration of American Islam has been as quiet as it has been pervasive. Virtually every imam at an American mosque is a Wahhabi -- Saudi trained, funded, and vetted -- a religious leader who promotes a virulent brand of fundamentalist Islam with the ultimate aim of imposing Sharia law upon the non-Muslim world. In addition, America's prison system is staffed largely by Muslim chaplains who are products of Saudi training. As a consequence, anti-American Islamofascist ideology is being taught to some of the most dangerous, unstable, and violent members of American society. Meanwhile, U.S. mosques continue to beat the drums for anti-Israeli causes that include fundraising for groups like Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad.
Al Qaeda sets the standard in terms of the diversity of its funding sources. The organization reaps enormous profits, for example, from its involvement in the illegal trafficking of semi-precious gems. Tanzanite, a semi-precious stone originating in East Africa, has been handled by an informal consortium of Muslim African distributors. While Osama bin Laden was based in Sudan and Somalia, he and his henchmen moved in on the Tanzanite dealers and pressured them to provide protection money to al Qaeda. Similarly, after relocating to Afghanistan, bin Laden took over the lapis lazuli mines (many of which later became the legendary caves in mountain redoubts) and controlled export sales of the stones. Many of these channels of funding remain open today despite serious setbacks to al Qaeda.
Al Qaeda also reaps large profits from its trafficking of opium and heroin. Along with the Taliban, al Qaeda has long controlled the production, distribution, and sale of opium outside of Afghanistan. The Afghanistan poppy fields are the point of origin for much of the world’s heroin.
Meanwhile, across the Middle East and Central Asia, rich Arab sheiks from Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, and other Arab countries periodically gather for so-called "money camps" -- where elaborate, ultra-luxurious, temporary facilities are set up in remote places in the region. At these events, participants meet and indulge themselves in many of their favorite activities, which include the sale of rhino horn-handled knives, and of protected species of falcons and eagles that are used in sport hunting. Huge amounts of money are exchanged for such items. Some of the illegal birds bring payments in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and into the millions for the very rare. During the social sessions at the camps, funding is also arranged for some of the sheiks' pet projects, including the promotion of Wahhabi Islam and support for terrorist organizations like bin Laden’s al Qaeda.
All of these operations -- the charities, gems, drugs, money camps, and other shakedown scams -- eventually result in substantial sums of money flowing into terrorist coffers.
Even larger than that, however, is the support -- direct and indirect -- that the terrorists and jihadists receive from legitimate corporate business interests. These are investors who, according to Center for Security Policy president Frank Gaffney, "hold hundreds of billions of dollars worth of stocks in companies that partner with Iran, the other Islamofascist regimes, and their friends." This is where below-the-radar support for terrorism and jihad is largest.
Adapted from "Terrorists: Swimming in Saudi Money," by By Lt. Col. Gordon Cucullu (November 8, 2005).