The Financial Sources of Islamic Terrorists

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2005

25 Pages



I. The Financial Sources of Al Qaeda
I.1.The Al Qaeda’s Financial Networks
I.2. Bin Laden’s Personal Funds and Businesses

II. Al Qaeda’s Financial Facilitators
II.1. The International Islamic Relief Organization and Charities (IIRO)
II.2. Funds from Muslim World League in Mecca
II.3. The Benevolence International Foundation (BIF)
II.4. The Al Haramain Islamic Foundation
II.5. The Muwafaq Foundation "Blessed Relief" Charity
II.6. The Rabita Trust

III. Al Qaeda Finances: From Saudi Arabia to the Continents
III.1. The Sudan, Yemen, Philippines and Malaysia Connections
III.2. Europe: Liechtenstein, Switzerland and Italy
III.3. United States of America and Canada

IV. Taliban-Al Qaeda International Drug Business

V. The New Terror Front in North-West Africa
V.1. Future Plans of Al Qaeda-GSPC Alliance
V.2. Global Tactics and Fundraising
V.3. GSPC’S Growing International Network


I. The Financial Sources of Al Qaeda

The al Qaeda terrorist network and its sources of funding seem very complicated and mysterious at large. And much of what we know may only be speculation. The CIA has estimated, for example, that it cost Al Qaeda’ some $30 million a year to sustain itself during the period preceding 9/11, but the agency is still not sure what al Qaeda needs or expends today. [[1] ]

What we know today is the modified money transfer system of Al-Qaeda, the way it moves funds around the globe. Before September 11, many financial institutions have helped transfer millions of dollars of al-Qaeda’s money, without any problem.

However, after greater inspection over the past transactions, other policies were created to prevent legal transmission of terrorist funds after 9/11. Today terrorists are increasingly using the informal hawala, a very historical transaction system. To transport the huge amount of cash money, diamonds and gold they use donkeys, mules and horses to transport to the very remote areas[2].

I.1.The Al Qaeda’s Financial Networks

The new methods of al-Qaeda’s fund rising intimidating the local business owners and companies to contribute a certain amount money. Through that al-Qaeda has and is underway to expand even further into the criminal world to raise money. These financial dynamics are beginning to shape terrorist activity. After the al-Qaeda command was crippled to control, local al-Qaeda jihadist groups may have now willingly franchised themselves and raise funds locally and possibly encouraged to make operational decisions on their own.

The roots of al Qaeda’s financial network, trace back directly to the extensive financing networks established to support anti-Soviet jihad activities in Afghanistan. These networks made wide-ranging use of Muslim charitable organizations and businesses mainly from Saudi Arabia and around the world. After the Afghan jihadism mission was completed, al Qaeda developed and altered itself into an international terrorist movement. Based on the Afghan funding tradition, it infiltrated a series of international Muslim charities that could be use to collect and camouflage the funds it needed. Moreover, Al-Qaeda relied basically on sympathetic Arab financial facilitators, mainly from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, charities, and other rich donors to obtain and channel the funds necessary to meet its logistical and operational needs.

These funds were used by these charities for both legitimate humanitarian relief and to support al Qaeda activities. The mask of its funds included supporting the establishment and maintenance of new radical Islamic centres developing al Qaeda’s dangerous theology, world wide indoctrination and recruitment to fight the western culture and values. These centres also provided a means. These centres also helped to create propaganda that encouraged donations for al Qaeda’s terrorist actions.

The 9/11 commission report concluded that a core group of these financial facilitators were responsible for most of its funding; “Some individual donors surely knew the ultimate destination of their donations. …These financial facilitators also appeared to rely heavily on certain imams at mosques who diverted zakat donations to the facilitators and encouraged support of radical causes.”[[3] ]

I.2. Bin Laden’s Personal Funds and Businesses

There is considerable less certainty with regard to other possible sources of al Qaeda funding. Experts on al-Qaeda believe that bin Laden still uses his own funds and runs its own businesses that deals in conflict diamonds and the international drug trade and other multiple resources [[4] ] The 9/11 Commission itself, has admitted that the lack of credible evidence regarding such activities might be due to a continuing lack of hard intelligence regarding al Qaeda finances.[[5] ] The defeat of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the elimination of al Qaeda’s bases and safe haven there have caused al Qaeda to splinter into scores of independent cells increasingly responsible for their own funding and maintenance. Many experts continue to believe, that al Qaeda and its derivative cells will use every possibility to generate the funds they need. There are increasing indications that these groups have turned to small local businesses, petty crime and drug trade to sustain themselves. [[6] ]

Several Experts, including those associated with the 9/11 Commission, believe that al Qaeda is now having a difficult time raising funds and that it has had to cut back significantly on its expenditures. [[7] ] This is but not true, since the pace of terrorist recruitment and activities has accelerated, not decreased, and the growth of self sustaining local al Qaeda cells is also increasing. A good part of this money comes from radical Islamic conviction and an associated absence of tolerance towards other ethnical or religious customs or beliefs. This stems, in part, from a radical expansion of fundamentalist Islam during the past four decades. It may be generated, in part, also by a growing resentment and alienation toward Western cultural influence in the Muslim world. The Stagnant Israeli-Palestinian situation and the war in Iraq have fuel the motivations for recruitment and support of a new generation of al Qaeda related jihadist terrorists.

II. Al Qaeda’s Financial Facilitators

Al Qaeda still raises funds from donors primarily in Audi Arabia, the Gulf region, but also from countries round the world. They use bogus and legitimate charities, shell companies and legitimate businesses as covers. Huge amount of money comes also from its network in Southeast Asia, with additional funding sources from Europe. Several of these financial facilitators have been captured or identified, while many continue to remain anonymous. The U.S. Treasury and the “United Nations Al Qaeda and Taliban Sanctions Committee” has freezed some of the assets in many countries, yet many remain at large and continue their financial and business operations. [[8] ]

Saudi Arabia still tolerates certain identified al Qaeda financiers, such as Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-law, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, and Wael Hamza Julaidan, whom are very active for al Qaeda, to continue to conduct business affairs in Saudi Arabia.[[9] ]Two other personalities, Youssef Nada and Idris Nasreddin, who were well known by U.S. Treasury Department and the United Nations, as Al Qaeda financiers continue able to manipulate their assets from their headquarters in Campione d’Italia and Rabat, Morocco.[[10] ] While Saudi Millionaire Yassin Al-Qadi has been indicted in the United States for funding al Qaeda through his Muwafaq charity, he continues to run his business empire from Switzerland and Saudi Arabia.[[11] ]

The capture of top al Qaeda officials like Sheikh Saiid al-Masri, Abdul Rahim Riyadh and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, was a serious blow to al Qaeda’s financial network. These two people provided names and information that have led to the identification of other facilitators and funding sources. Important information and leads have also been obtained Omar Al-Faruq and Jamal Ahmed Al-Fadl who broke with al Qaeda in the mid 1990s. These two financial managers named several other sources and networks from past al Qaeda. Nevertheless, al Qaeda has been able to replace all its accounts and assets with persons or organizations remained uncovered.

II.1. The International Islamic Relief Organization and Charities (IIRO)

Al Qaeda’s reliance on charities to raise, mask, transfer and distribute the funds it needs, has been put under close inspection by counter- intelligence and enforcement agencies around the world. They have put together a composite sketch of the activities of more than 50 international and local charities. Many of these charities are, or were associated with some of the major Islamic umbrella organizations headquartered in Saudi Arabia, including, but certainly not limited

to, the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), the Benevolence International Foundation, the al Haramian Islamic Foundation, Blessed Relief (Muwafaq) Foundation, and the Rabita Trust.

These powerful organizations have branches worldwide and are, engaged in activities related to religious, educational, social and humanitarian programs. But their support in financing Al-Qaeda was kept secret, until the two captured top al-Qaeda officials spoke out.

There is a recognized religious duty in the Muslim world to provide a set portion of ones earnings or assets for religious or charitable purposes (Zakat), and otherwise to support charitable works through voluntary deeds or contributions (Sadaqah).

In countries like Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates that have no established income tax system, the Zakat substitutes as the principal source of funding for religious, social and humanitarian organizations and activities.

Charity forms a very important part of Muslim law and tradition and the funds are collected by the Government, or though local mosques and religious centres.

Sadaqah contributions are also made directly to established Islamic charities. As both Zakat and Sadaqah are viewed as personal religious responsibilities there has traditionally been little or no government oversight of these activities. Donations in large measure remain anonymous.

Al Qaeda has still its own front charities and to solicit funds through collection boxes at mosques and Islamic centres. It has also placed operatives in key positions within established charities that are responsible to collect and transfer the money together with funds registered for legitimate relief and developmental activities.

II.2. Funds from Muslim World League in Mecca

In 1962 the Saudi Royal family established the Muslim World League in Mecca and provided it funds to support the propagation of Wahhabi Islam. The Muslim World League undertook a series of activities to fund institutions especially in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. The organization also became active in Europe, including countries of the former Soviet Union and North America. Saudi public and private support for these activities has been estimated at over $75 billion during the last four decades. [[12] ] Many experts have drawn a link between this conversion effort and the rise in appeal of al Qaeda throughout the Muslim world. The line from Wahhabism to Jihadism is a very thin one, and easily crossed religiously and intellectually.

The above mentioned IIRO is another Wahhabi sponsored charity. Established in 1978, it has branch offices throughout the world, including 36 in Africa, 24 in Asia, 10 in Europe and 10 in Latin America, the Caribbean and North America. The bulk of its financial contributions come from private donations in Saudi Arabia including the Royal family. This includes a long standing endowment fund (Sanabil al-Khair) established to generate a stable income to finance its various activities. The IIRO continues to be closely associated to the Muslim World League with which it participates in many joint activities. Many prominent Middle East figures and financiers have supported this mainstream Islamic charity.[[13] ]

The CIA has reported that the IIRO was highly involved in raising funds to support al-Qaeda in establishing more than six Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan before September 1, 2001 event [[14] ] Evidence produced in Canadian Court proceedings shows that funds raised through the IIRO were used to support the groups responsible for the 1998 bombings of the American Embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi.[[15] ] The former head of the IIRO office in the Philippines, Muhammad Jamal Khalifa, was also accused of links to al Qaeda and terrorist activities.[[16] ] IIRO’s current Secretary General, Dr. Adnan Khaleel Pasha, has sought to clean house and steer clear of any links to al Qaeda. However, the IIRO, under his direction continues to provide direct support to Hamas activists and other radical groups.[[17] ]

II.3. The Benevolence International Foundation (BIF)

The BFI was the emergence of two separate organizations established in late 1980s. Just like the IIRO, it is a Saudi umbrella charity organization that has served as an important funding source for al Qaeda. The Islamic Benevolence Committee was established as a charity based in Peshawar, Pakistan and Jeddah. Its titular founder was Sheikh Adil Abdul Batarjee. Benevolence International Corporation was set up as an import export business in the Philippines Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, who headed the Philippines IIRO office, was its founder. Both organizations were engaged in raising funds to support the mujahideen in Afghanistan. The two organizations appeared to work separately for about 10 years. In 1992 they became the Benevolence International Foundation and opened new branches throughout Southeast Asia as well as in Europe and America.

The U.S. took action in December 2001and called upon the Security Council to add Benevolence to its consolidated list of entities associated with al Qaeda as financiers of terrorism. The United States charged that BIF and its chief executive officer, Enaam Arnaout was involved in the purchase and distribution of rockets, other weapons and offensive and defensive bombs, and …(distributing) them to various mujahideen camp’s, including camps operated by al Qaeda”[[18] ] The CIA document also cited direct links between Arnaout and bin Laden, and with Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, a bin Laden lieutenant.

Testimony at the 2001 trial of United States on Bin Laden, et al, implicated Salim in efforts to develop chemical weapons for al Qaeda and to obtain nuclear weapons components.[[19] ]

II.4. The Al Haramain Islamic Foundation

The Haramain is the most aggressive foundation in supporting radicalism, and Saudi Arabia ’s most active charities in spreading Islamic fundamentalism.

Based in Jeddah, Al Haramain reportedly funded some 4000 Wahhabi missionaries and concentrated heavily in establishing new radicalist Wahhabi Mosques in Southeast Asia, the Balkans, and Africa. According to its web site Al Haramain operates in some 49 countries. It raises some $50 million per year drawing its funding largely from Saudi donors . Its founding general manager Shiekh Aqeel al-Aqeel maintained a close relationship with the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs, and the Saudi government was considered one of its principal benefactors. Ironically, on 11 March 2002, the United States and Saudi Arabia jointly registered the Bosnia and Herzegovina and Somalia offices of Al-Haramain as al Qaeda funding sources. The Somalian branch had funnelled money to Al-Ittihad al-Islami, a growing terrorist group.[[20] ] The Bosnia office was linked to Al-Jemaah al-Islamiyah al-Masriyah and to Osama bins Laden. The Russian government has also accused Saudi Arabia due to Al Haramain funding for Chechen rebels.[[21] ]

Other branches are also operating in Albania, Croatia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Kosovo, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Tanzania. The Saudi government has removed Shiekh Al-Aqeel as Al Haramain’s General Manager and ordered the closing of 15 branches outside Saudi Arabia.[[22] ] Shiekh Aqeel al-Aqeel was observed by the U.S. government and the UN. in June, 2004.[[23] ] However, it does not appear that Saudi Arabia has taken any other actions against him and the al Haramain.

II.5. The Muwafaq Foundation "Blessed Relief" Charity

The founder of the "Blessed Relief" charity, also known as the Muwafaq Foundation Yassim al-Qadi an associate of Osama bin Laden. It was established in 1991 with the stated purpose of the charity to “relieve disease, hunger and ignorance.” The Charity was active in Bosnia during the Balkan wars and was closed in 1998 following allegations of fund-raising and transferring of funds on behalf of al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. The foundation’s principal benefactor was Khalid Bin Mahfouz. Al-Qadi was subsequently registered by the U.S. Treasury Department on October 12, 2001.[[24] ]

II.6. The Rabita Trust

The stated aims and mission of Rabita as it was established in Pakistan in 1988, was to expand on the teachings of Islam, “and to ‘defend’ Islamic causes in a manner that safeguards the interests and aspirations of Muslims…, and repels adverse trends and dogma which the enemies of Islam seek to exploit in order to destroy the unity of Muslims and to sow seeds of doubt in the Muslim brethren.”[[25] ]

The members of the Trust included Pakistan’s Ministers of Finance and Interior as well as Saudi Prince Talal ibn Abdul Aziz, secretary-generals of the Muslim World League, the IIRO and President of the Council of Saudi Chamber of Commerce. Most of its funding was secured from Saudi businessmen. Funds from the trust were reportedly used for a number of al Qaeda related activities, including recruitment and training in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere. The Rabita Trust was run by Wael Hamza Julaidan, who the U.S. Treasury Department charged was an associate of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. He was registered by the U.S. and the UN as an al Qaeda associate in late 2002.[[26] ]


[1] The 9/11 Commission Report and National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, Monograph on Terrorist Financing, page 9.

[2] Anonymous (pseudonym of former CIA analyst Michael Scheuer: Peter Baker, “Pakistani Scientist Who Met Bin Laden Failed Polygraphs, Renewing Suspicions,” The Washington Post, March 3, 2002. The Global Jihadist Movement

[3] See The 9/11 Commission Report and National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, Monograph on Terrorist Financing, page 9.

[4] See The 9/11 Commission Report, pages 22-24

[5] See generally the First and Second Reports of the Monitoring Group Established Pursuant to United Nations Security Council Resolution 1363 (2001) and extended by resolutions 1390 (2002) and 1455 (2003) on sanctions against Al Qaida, The Taliban and Individuals and Entitles Associated With Them, UNDOCs S/2003/669 dated 8 July 2003 and S/2003/1070 dated 3 December 2003. On Al Qaeda’s use of the Drug Trade see Money Laundering: Current Status of our Efforts to Coordinate and Combat Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing, Hearings Before the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, March 4, 2004. Also Chouvy, Pierre-Arnaud; “Norco-Terrorism in Afghanistan,” Terrorism Monitor, Volume II, Issue 6, March 25, 2004. On diamonds and other precious commodities, see Farah, Douglas, Blood From Stones, and The Secret Financial Network of Terror (New York: Random House, 2004).

[6] National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, Monograph on Terrorist Financing, page 5: “The U.S. intelligence community largely failed to comprehend al Qaeda’s methods of raising, moving, and storing money, because it devoted relatively few resources to collecting the strategic financial intelligence that policymakers were requesting or that would have informed the larger counterterrorism strategy.”

[7] See National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, Monograph on Terrorist Financing, page 10.

[8] Second Report of the Monitoring Group Established Pursuant to United Nations Security Council Resolution 1363 (2001) and extended by resolutions 1390 (2002) and 1455 (2003) on sanctions against Al Qaeda, S/2003/1070 dated 3 December 2003.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball, "Paying for Terror, Treasury Department Documents Detail the Murky World of Al Qaeda’s Financing,"Newsweek (Web Exclusive), May 12, 2004.

[12] David D. Aufhauser, Former U.S. Treasury Department General Counsel, "An Assessment of Current Efforts to Combat Terrorism Financing," 20, Statement Before the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, June 15, 2004.

[13] Second Report of the Monitoring Group Established Pursuant to United Nations Security Council Resolution 1363 (2001) and extended by resolutions 1390 (2002) and 1455 (2003) on sanctions against Al Qaeda, S/2003/1070 dated 3 December 2003, Paragraphs 40-43.

[14] This CIA report was released under a Freedom of Information request. Extracts from the text of the report are available online at

[15] See Minister of Citizenship and Immigration v. Mahmoud Jaballah, Federal Court of Canada, Docket DES-6-99, 2 November 1999.

[16] See Philippine Country Report, UN Security Council Resolution 1267 and 1455, Al Qaeda Sanctions Committee, October, 2004 S/AC.37/2003/(1455)/79 22 October 2003.

[17] Steven Stalinsky, “Saudi Royal Family’s Financial Support to the Palestinians, 1998–2003: More than 15 billion Rials ($4 Billion U.S.) Given to ‘Mujahideen Fighters’ and ‘Families of Martyrs,'"MEMRI Special Report 17, July 3, 2003.

[18] “Treasury Designates Benevolence International Foundation and Related Entities as Financiers of Terrorism,” U.S. Treasury Department Press Release (PO-3632), November 19, 2002.

[19] Ibid.

[20] "Security Council Committee Established Pursuant To Resolution 1267 (1999) Adds Two Entities To Its Consolidated List,"United Nations Press Release SC/7331, March 15, 2002.

[21] Second Report of the Monitoring Group Established Pursuant to United Nations Security Council Resolution 1363 (2001) and extended by resolutions 1390 (2002) and 1455 (2003) on sanctions against Al Qaeda, S/2003/1070 dated 3 December 2003, Paragraph 46.

[22] Staff Writer, “Al-Haramain Shuts 3 Offices Abroad, 4 More to Close,” Arab News, Jeddah, May 16, 2003.

[23] "Additional Al-Haramain Branches, Former Leader Registered by Treasury as Al Qaeda Supporters, Treasury Marks Latest Actions in Joint Designation with Saudi Arabia,"U.S. Treasury Press Release JS-1703, June 2, 2004.

[24] "Treasury Department Releases List of 39 Additional Specially Registered Global Terrorists,"U.S. Treasury Press Release PO-689, October 12, 2001.

[25] See

[26] "Treasury Department Statement on the Designation of Wa’el Hamza Julidan,"U.S. Treasury Press Release PO-3397, September 6, 2002.

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The Financial Sources of Islamic Terrorists
University of Bremen  (University of Miami, FL / University of Bremen, Germany)
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Islamic-radicalism, GPSC, Al-Qaeda, Islamic Charities, Hawala, Italy, Lichtestein, Yemen, USA, Asia, Africa, Terrorism, Switzerland, Islamic Brotherhood, Saudi Arabia, Gulf States, The Emirates
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Professor. Dr. Girma Yohannes Iyassu Menelik (Author), 2005, The Financial Sources of Islamic Terrorists, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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