As the global economy languished in the throes of deep recession, so, it seems, did al Qaeda.
An audio message intercepted by CBS News, sent by the terror group's chief financial manager (a label used by Sept. 11 Commission), portrays a rare image of the terrorist enterprise: hard-up.
This audio was not intended for mass consumption. It was not one of the typical propaganda speeches so often released on the jihadists' preferred Internet chat rooms and forums.
Mostafa Abul Yazid (above), who is also al Qaeda's senior figure in Afghanistan, is heard asking 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 drive for donations.
The Egyptian, a qualified accountant, is suspected to have handled the finances of the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001 — a time when funding was barely a concern on the minds of al Qaeda's leadership.
At one point, al Qaeda relied entirely on the wealth of Osama bin Laden for its funding. The group's boss once owned a private jet and bragged about owning agricultural lands in Sudan the size of Bahrain.
In the early nineties, al Qaeda also benefited from the generous donations of Islamic charities and wealthy individuals, mostly in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries. It's been reported that the group's budget for 2000 was estimated at $30 million.
Things changed, however, in the wake of the attacks on New York and the Pentagon. The U.S. government, along with the European Union and other members of the international community, embarked on a major effort to counter terrorist financing around the world, putting into force a plethora of legal instruments and new laws.
Wealthy jihad financiers were prosecuted and dozens of charities had their assets frozen.
CBS News intercepted the tape on Tuesday, but it is inherently impossible to put an exact recording date on the audio.
However, a reference to "U.S. President Bush" by Abul Yazid indicates it is at least six months old. And his lament over the "slow action in the operations here nowadays" may refer to a lull in attacks by al Qaeda last year. Once-omnipresent propaganda videos of the group's militants blowing up Afghan and Coalition targets all but dried up late in 2008.
Al Qaeda, much as other large organizations which rely heavily on donations, likely took a big hit as donors watched their private fortunes dwindle amid the banking and credit crisis.
The Taliban, as clearly evidenced by yesterday's brazen attack on a luxury hotel in neighboring Pakistan, operates differently. The lucrative opium trade which buys explosives for that group has apparently suffered less under the strains of economic malaise.