Al Qaeda's Feverish Hunt For Cash

This story was filed by CBS News' Khaled Wassef.

(CBS)
Al Qaeda is facing its most dire financial difficulties in years, according to the U.S. Treasury. Assistant secretary for terrorist financing, David Cohen, said that the terrorist organization is currently in its weakest financial condition.

"The influence of the network, damaged by U.S. efforts to choke funding, is waning," Cohen said.

In recent months, al Qaeda and its supporters have made repeated donation pleas and openly discussed ways to bypass efforts by international governments to bloc their financial flow. In August, an al Qaeda supporter going by the name Gharib Al-Ha'eli proposed measures on the al-Fallojah blog to bolster fundraising.

Al-Ha'eli suggested that al Qaeda operatives who act as intermediaries with donors — the money collectors — avoid any participation in other aspects of jihad, to help them avoid apprehension via connection with other suspects. He also said al Qaeda's senior leadership should provide the intermediaries with inside information on upcoming statements and operations, which they could pass on to the donors to boost confidence and reassure them that their money was going to be spent on the cause.

In September, a cell phone video message by former Guantanamo detainee and al Qaeda commander in the Arabian Peninsula Saeed al-Shihri (at right in photo above) was found on the phone of a terror suspect arrested by Saudi authorities. Shihri appeared in the short clip sitting in a moving vehicle with Yemeni al Qaeda operative Mohammed Abdel Karim al-Ghazali at his side. His message was a simple appeal for money, "to help jihad to keep going."

"The blessed Jihad performed by your brethren in Yemen against the enemies of Islam needs the core of life and the core Jihad, which is money," Shihri said.

Saudi authorities have intercepted other, similar fund-raising messages, which they believe are sent to wealthy individuals viewed by al Qaeda as likely sympathizers.

A message by al Qaeda's second in command, Ayman al-Zawahri, was sent to cell phones in the Kingdom back in March 2008. "The bearer of this message is one of our trusted brothers, therefore please give him your donations for hundreds of the families of captives and martyrs in Pakistan and Afghanistan," Zawahri was heard saying in the audio recording aired by Saudi TV.

A longer audiotape by al Qaeda commander in Afghanistan, Mostafa Abul Yazid, was intercepted by CBS News in June. In it, Yazid asks an unknown contact in Turkey for urgent financial support.

"We are lacking funds here in the Afghan jihadi arena," he says on the tape. "The slow action in the operations here nowadays is due to the lack of funds, and many Mujahideen could not carry out jihad because there's not enough money."

"It's to the point where there are many martyrdom-seekers here who wish to sacrifice their lives for the sake of Allah, but we don't have the means to equip them," Abdul Yazid says in his desperate appeal for cash.

The dip in al Qaeda's cash flow is attributed to successful global efforts to crack down on the group's funding networks, to target its major donors and restrict its ability to move money.

In mid-June, Yemeni authorities announced that they had arrested a top financier of al Qaeda operations in Yemen and the Saudi Arabian province of Marib, a stronghold of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

The man, named Hassan Hussein bin Alwan, a Saudi national, was considered one of al Qaeda's most effective cash coordinators — an intermediary who became adept at collecting huge sums from donors in Saudi under the guise of building mosques and orphanages in Yemen.

He also one of the most dangerous al Qaeda operatives in the Arabian Peninsula, according to the Yemeni Defense ministry.

Bin Alwan's arrest was highly significant in the Gulf because investigators believe he can provide detailed information on al Qaeda's global financing operations.

Many al Qaeda sympathizers online have denied the Treasury's report that their finances are suffering. A webmaster on "henein" jihadi blogs recently told fellow members that the report was simply part of the "propaganda war," and said al Qaeda was simply in need of extra cash to fund some surprises which he said, "would be revealed very soon."

  • Khaled Wassef

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