Brit Edwin Dyer was kidnapped in 2009 by al-Qaeda in North Africa, along with a German and a Swiss couple. Like the US, Britain doesn’t pay ransoms and didn’t in this case—and Dyer was killed. But his fellow captives were released after their governments paid al-Qaeda a collective $10.7 million; that same year, Swiss lawmakers added a line item in their budget for humanitarian aid … code for ransom money, reports the New York Times. European governments—mostly France, Spain, and Switzerland—routinely pay al-Qaeda ransoms for captive citizens, else they be killed. In short, "Europe has become an inadvertent underwriter" of the terror group, writes Rukmini Callimachi. And it's big money: about $125 million since 2008 and $66 million last year alone.
"Kidnapping hostages is an easy spoil, which I may describe as a profitable trade and a precious treasure," says the leader of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. By one recent al-Qaeda estimate, ransoms covered half of its expenses. The group and its affiliates have become expert at all aspects of the abductions and subsequent negotiations, which include periods of silence to create panic. “Kidnapping for ransom has become today’s most significant source of terrorist financing,” says a US Treasury official. "Each transaction encourages another transaction.” Click to read Callimachi's full story, or to see a Times video of kidnappers in action. (Read more al-Qaeda stories.)