Al Qaeda’s income, estimated at $400-600 million a year, has fallen steeply along with the slump on Wall Street and the declining oil revenues of its main contributors.
Al Qaeda’s imprint on current events has moreover been squeezed out by bigger dramas: the spreading turmoil on world markets, the unfolding cold war between the United States and Russia, the rise of Iran as a leading Middle East power and the galloping crisis in Pakistan.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror sources and al Qaeda experts believe that the option most in character for Osama bin Laden in a corner is to strike suddenly at an unexpected target.
This time he will aim for a terrorist operation with financial gain, enough to replenish his shrinking war chest and keep al Qaeda and its hundreds of dependent organizations afloat.
Bin Laden is believed to be the sole manager of al Qaeda’s finances, assisted by no more than two or three assistants. Its earnings derive from four main sources: gifts of oil revenues from sympathetic Muslim energy tycoons in the Gulf and Asia; income from world sales of drugs, gold and diamonds, and donations from supportive individuals and institutions.
All four sources have dropped steeply in the spreading global credit crisis.
Almost a quarter of al Qaeda’s income from oil has been wiped out by falling prices, like the oil revenues of Riyadh, Tehran and Moscow. Since the financial crisis hit the West, the consumption of illegal drugs has declined by an estimated third in the cities of North America and West Europe, the main markets for the opium crops of Afghanistan and Pakistan, whose revenues al Qaeda and Taliban share.
Lean times for al Qaeda’s donors too
Gold and diamonds and other precious stones have also declined in value, affecting al Qaeda’s investments in West and South African mines.
Most of all, bin Laden has seen a major slump in the generosity of donors, who like everyone else hold on to their assets in lean times and default on contributions. The amounts received usually come in US dollars, whose value is in free fall.
Strange as this may sound, bin Laden is casting about for ways to stabilize the sources of his revenue. True to his modus operandi, the al Qaeda leader is designing a large-scale terrorist attack or series of attacks. These are his calculations:
A major atrocity against the United States may have the same psychological effect as the 9/11 attacks which united the American people behind their government. Bin Laden will hope that under a fresh assault, Americans would again put their trust in their leaders and the institutions which support their society, including Wall Street.
An attack of major proportions on the oil wells or export terminals of the Arabian Peninsula, Persian Gulf or North Africa, where al Qaeda maintains large networks, will boost oil prices.
Bin Laden sees Russia as its next big target
Seasoned al Qaeda and bin Laden watchers have told DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources that the strained relations between Moscow and Washington in the Middle East, the Caucasian and Central Asia are detrimental to al Qaeda’s geopolitical interests.
While the al Qaeda leader does not object to America taking a beating politically and economically, he believes the punishing hand should be jihadist not Russian.
In the mid-1980s, Al Qaeda and Taliban joined forces with the Americans to drive the Red Army out of Afghanistan and the last thing bin Laden wants to see is a revival of Russian influence among the Muslims of the Caucasus, the Caspian region and Central Asia. He is believed to be gearing up to upset Moscow’s applecart by his usual methods of terrorist violence against Russian forces and their indigenous collaborators.
Another development which Bin Laden finds hard to swallow is the triple alliance binding Russia, Iran and Syria. His senior strategic advisers see this bloc as the coming together of al Qaeda’s greatest foes: Russia, which suppresses the Chechens, Iran, which is ruled by apostate Shiites and Syria under the regime of Allawites, who are as bad as Shiites.
Stopping Iran reaching Kabul
Until recently, al Qaeda was satisfied it was fulfilling its mission of fighting American influence in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Now its leaders see still more dangerous enemies creeping into these arenas through the back door.
Al Qaeda’s objective in Pakistan to date was to smash the American and British army’s logistic support for their war in Afghanistan and to knock out pro-American members of the government like the former president Pervez Musharraf and his successor Ali Asif Zardari.
Bin Laden & Co, are about to revise their strategic objectives, casting Pakistan in the role of buffer zone between Iran and Afghanistan, a barrier to block the advance of the Iranians and Russians on Kabul. To this end, al Qaeda and Taliban are going all out to seize power in Islamabad. The devastating suicide blast at the Marriott Hotel last Saturday was a foretaste of the violence to come.
This turnaround is but one of the new directions DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror experts are picking up on. They offer Washington new geopolitical opportunities and avenues of action. But their exploitation depends on the ability of the next occupant of the White House in just over six weeks to seize the moment.