18.06.09 Taliban, Al Qaeda finances recovering

18.06.09 Taliban, Al Qaeda finances recovering

Investigation shows Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan get money from extortion, crime and drugs.Taliban refer to extortion money as tolls, taxes or zakat

PESHAWAR: For the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, money is coming mostly from extortion, crime and drugs, an AP investigation claims

Funding for the Al Qaeda is more diverse and included money from new recruits, donations from sympathisers, and a cut of profits from honey dealers in Yemen and Pakistan.

“With respect to the Taliban, the narco-dollars are a major, if not majority, of their funding sources, and I think add in there as well extortion and kidnapping,” said Juan Carlos, a former US National Security Council adviser on terrorism who now works at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Afghanistan produces more opium than any other country in the world. The Taliban charge drug kingpins to move the opium through their territory. The United Nations estimates their annual cut to be more than $300 million.

‘Taxes’: The Taliban refer to extortion money as tolls, taxes or zakat. Money from drugs and criminal gangs makes up roughly 85 to 90 percent of Taliban revenue, estimates John Solomon of the US Military Academy’s Counter Terrorism Centre. In Pakistan, the NWFP governor puts the Taliban’s annual earnings at roughly Rs 4 billion.

Taliban soldiers are paid nearly $100 a month, more than the average Pakistani policeman. A Taliban commander gets more than $350 a month.

The informal money transfer system known as hawala or hundi is flourishing in Pakistan and Afghanistan as well as the US. Former prime minister Shaukat Aziz said more than $5 billion went out of Pakistan every year through this system, which operates without regulation.

In three of the last five years, the top source of money transfer into Pakistan through hawala has been the US, a security official said.

After September 11, 2001, the financial crackdown closed some of Al Qaeda’s sources of funding. But with the help of the hawala system, it has since re-established its money line.

Over the last two years, it has turned up the call for donations, told new recruits to bring money with them, and shown signs of being more frugal. This can either mean that it is saving up for another 9/11-style attack, or that the crackdown has curbed its fundraising ability.

Estimates of Al Qaeda’s annual spending vary wildly from $300 million to as low as $10 million.

Carlos said its main expenses were payments to families; food and shelter to maintain operations; travel and logistics; money for cells engaged in plots; bribes, and expenses for long-term plans like anthrax research.

Some charities with alleged Al Qaeda connections have renamed themselves. In Kuwait, the Revival Islamic Heritage Society, believed by the US to be heavily financing Al Qaeda, is still operating.

Because of demands from the International Monetary Fund, Pakistan has removed restrictions on the amount of money that can be brought into the country. It has limited to $10,000 the money that can leave the country, cracking down on some of the biggest hawala dealers.

“Once the money is inside the country, it is difficult to locate it. Smugglers and transporters help finance the Taliban either out of sympathy for their cause or because they are being forced to give a share,” said a security official.

A cartel of honey dealers is back in business, laundering money and moving drugs but the scale is smaller than in 2001.

A former fighter with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar told AP honey is sent from Pakistan with an inflated price tag to markets in the Middle East and the profits sent by courier to Al Qaeda.

Honey dealers in Peshawar said that there was no Al Qaeda link to their sales. But one honey dealer said the outlawed Al Shifa Honey Press was still operating in Punjab. He said he knew of no Al Qaeda affiliation

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