With the exception of al-Qaeda's branch in the Maghreb, which apparently reaps millions of dollars in ransom money from kidnapping Western hostages on the African coast, the various other branches of al-Qaeda, with its General Command operating in the border areas of Afghanistan-Pakistan leading the list, seem to be suffering from a severe liquidity crisis.
This may be the result of successful efforts undertaken for years by governments around the world to target the organisation's sources of funding. It may also reflect the fact that al-Qaeda’s activities no longer enjoy the support of those who supported and funded it in the past and who have come to regard al-Qaeda as a perpetrator of illegal activities.
The campaign against al-Qaeda's funding sources began in earnest in the wake of the September 11th, 2001 attacks when the United States led an international effort to pass laws that ban material support for Osama bin Laden's organisation.
Indeed, most countries in the world passed legislation to that effect, including Arab countries, led by Saudi Arabia which regulated the operation of its charitable organizations, some of which it is believed were sources of financing for al-Qaeda, either knowingly or in the belief that donations would ultimately go to the needy.
The Saudi campaign against funding al-Qaeda took another turn recently when the council of senior religious scholars issued a fatwa last April decreeing that any form of funding for terrorism is an offence, the clearest position of its kind by the council that includes the most prominent scholars in Saudi Arabia.
It is not clear to what extent this fatwa deprived al-Qaeda of the opportunity to obtain funding from donors in the Gulf, but it is well known that the activity of this organisation appears to be limited to Yemen, in areas currently outside the authority of the central government.
But while al-Qaeda's Maghreb branch active in the countries of the African Sahel boasts about its ability to raise millions of dollars in ransom money, the organisation's branch in Iraq, for example, seems to be suffering great difficulties in securing the necessary funding after suffering consecutive setbacks over the past three years.
There was a time when the leadership of al-Qaeda in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border areas looked to its branch in Iraq to provide it with funds (Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri asked Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 2005 to transfer $100,000 dollars from Iraq to Afghanistan). But it appears that the al-Qaeda branch in Iraq today is suffering a severe "drought" in funding sources, which forced it to resort to bank and jewellery shops robberies in the Iraqi capital, as evidenced by the series of recent attacks in Baghdad.
The leadership of al-Qaeda in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region does not seem to be faring much better than its branch in Iraq. An extensive review of al-Qaeda's statements – whether releases through "As-Sahab", the media arm of the organisation, or media statements by al-Qaeda leaders- reveals that Osama bin Laden's organisation is intensifying its efforts to solicit contributions, a clear sign that it is faced with severe financial difficulties.
Beginning in 2009, there has been an increase in the number of direct appeals for financial support in the organisation's statements and releases, for what al-Qaeda refers to as jihad.
An analysis of 53 direct appeals for funding support made by al-Qaeda since its inception finds that 14 of the appeals were issued in 2009, and 11 were made in the first nine months of 2010.
Additionally, out of 21 direct appeals for funding support by al-Qaeda (i.e. appeals made exclusively for monetary support), six of them were issued in 2009 and seven in 2010, indicating that the need for funding has increased significantly over the last two years.
Senior al-Qaeda leaders issued some of their most urgent appeals for financial support in the last two years, especially in early 2009 and mid-2010, in the context that doing so is a religious duty required to support "jihad operations".
For example, during his call to the "Islamic nation" to fulfil its "duty" in support of the Mujahideen with "lives and blood", Osama bin Laden said in a January release that by virtue of his experience in jihad, he knows the full extent of its "financial costs".
After equating the hardships the Mujahideen are encountering today with those suffered during the days of the Prophet, bin Laden challenged Muslims to come forward and act "as Osman Ibn Affan did ", in reference to the third Caliph, who bin Laden said provided most of the funding for the Islamic army from his own personal assets.
In February 2009, al-Qaeda’s second in command, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, warned Muslims of a "Crusader-Jewish" campaign aimed at taking their land and stressed that "those who have money, have the obligation to support the Mujahideen with their money" and "spend it in the cause of God" in order to "foil" the "crusaders'" plan to besiege the Mujahideen.
Also in February 2009, the emir of al-Qaeda in Khorasan, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, known as "Sheikh Saeed al-Masri" (killed earlier this year), called on Muslims and those whom he referred to as the Mujahideen in Pakistan, to "carry out jihad with money, as monetary jihad is the lifeblood of jihad. Without money, jihad comes to a halt. "
Last June, Abu al-Yazid declared, "O Islamic nation, one of our duties is to fund jihad with property and money because that is equivalent to conducting jihad in person." He added that "every man, youth, and woman in every Muslim country ought to, to the best of his or her ability, strive to raise funds and send them to the Mujahideen."
Al-Qaeda leaders have started to admit that the lack of funding is adversely affecting the organisation's operations and its ability to absorb a large number of recruits.
In an interview with the Jihadi Media Elite last July, al-Qaeda leader Sheikh Attiyat-Allah (also known as Atiyah Abd al-Rahman al-Libi) said that "due to the lack of funds", al-Qaeda - as well as the Taliban - "lack the capacity to absorb large numbers (of Mujahideen) ". He complained that "those in this nation who have money are delinquent in donating it."
A month earlier, Abu al-Yazid (Sheikh Saeed al-Masri) repeatedly referred not just to the shortage of funds, but acknowledged that "the leaders do not have the ability to prepare men for jihad," adding that "a lot of planned operations are on hold due to lack of funds."
Abu al-Yazid, a founding member of al-Qaeda and a former member of the Shura Council, was believed to be the organisation's financial chief. He admitted to a shortage of funds for jihad in Afghanistan in several statements made in recent years.
In June of 2009, in a statement produced by the "al-Taefa al-Mansura Network" and distributed by al-Fajr Media Centre, al-Qaeda's online network, Abu Al-Yazid addressed the Turkish people, saying, "We are experiencing a severe shortage of funds in the Afghan theatre", and "the waning of operations is due to lack of funds."
Abu al-Yazid said in an interview with "As-Sahab" in May 2007 - in response to a question about the needs of jihad in Afghanistan - that the primary need is financial support and that although the "Taliban Mujahideen" number in the thousands, they lack the finances to conduct operations.
There are many other indications that al-Qaeda is encountering financial difficulties.
In an interview distributed last June by the Centre for Media Communication (a jihad media entity that appears to be tied specifically to the Afghan– Pakistani jihad), Abdel Majid Abdel Majid, said to be a member of the Shura Council of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, urged Muslims to make contributions for jihad, warning that God will judge those who are delinquent in providing the funding needed by the Muslim nation to confront what he described as the richest powers on earth.
Additionally, "As-Sahab" distributed a video tape last July depicting an attack launched in Afghanistan, "in retaliation" for the killing of leaders of the "Islamic State of Iraq", featuring a figure referred to as the "martyr" Lukman al-Makki (from the Arabian Peninsula), who gave a testimonial in the video on "the financial necessities required to wage jihad".
Al-Makki implored Muslim merchants, saying, "Jihad is in dire need of your support and your efforts. Do not fail jihad."
Also last July, al-Qaeda leader Abu Yahya al-Libi appeared in a video distributed by As-Sahab to remind al-Qaeda supporters that continuing jihad is difficult due to many factors, including "lack of funds".