Terrorist groups in Mali and Yemen that are affiliated with al-Qaida are “gaining strength,” in large part by taking hostages for ransom, a senior US Treasury official said Friday.
“The US government estimates that terrorist organizations have collected approximately $120 million in ransom payments over the past eight years,” said David Cohen, the Treasury Department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, in a speech to the Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House in London.
US intelligence officials are investigating whether the two main groups Cohen cited, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, may have played a role in the Sept. 11 attack on a US diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Christopher Stevens, the American ambassador to Libya, and three other Americans.
“What’s worse,” Cohen added, “the size of the average ransom payment is increasing. In 2010, the average ransom payment per hostage to AQIM was $4.5 million; in 2011, that figure was $5.4 million."