U.N. experts urge halt to ransoms financing al-Qaeda

The panel monitoring sanctions against al-Qaeda recommended reinforcing a travel ban against affected individuals

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U.N. experts are urging a halt to hefty ransom payments that have made kidnapping a core tactic for al-Qaeda and its affiliates in recent years.

In a report to the Security Council late Wednesday, the panel monitoring sanctions against al-Qaeda also recommended reinforcing a travel ban against affected individuals by using biometrics and improving government lists of “inadmissible” passengers.

The experts say improvised explosive devices are “the primary weapon of choice of al-Qaeda and its affiliates” and recommend that all countries include explosives and the raw materials and components to make IEDs under the al-Qaeda arms embargo.

According to the experts, al-Qaeda has engaged widely in kidnapping to finance its operations. They cited a U.S. estimates that $120 million in ransom was paid to terrorist groups between 2004 and 2012.

“A total of 1,283 kidnappings motivated by terrorism were reported in 2012, and a single hostage could deliver a seven-figure ransom into the hands of terrorists,” the experts said.

The experts said Africa and the Asia-Pacific accounted for 53 percent of kidnappings recorded worldwide in 2012, an increase from 18 percent in 2004, while the Middle East accounted for 19 percent of kidnappings, up from 4 percent in 2008.

Noting that governments worldwide have condemned ransom payments to terrorist groups, the experts urged an end to payouts, stressing that this is a violation of U.N. sanctions on individuals and groups subject to an asset freeze because of their al-Qaeda links.

Overall, the panel said al-Qaeda “remains a threat, even though it has not been able to recover its former strength.”

Its leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, is “relatively ineffective,” and affiliates are disregarding his operational instructions, it said.

At the same time, the panel said “multiple al-Qaeda affiliates are evolving, often autonomously.”

The experts cited a “generational change” in some al-Qaeda affiliates, with leaders shifting away from figures in their late 40s to 70s to younger men in their late 30s and 40s.

Al-Qaeda affiliates have taken advantage of conflicts in Syria and northern Yemen, and gaps in governance in parts of Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan, the report said.

They have also found new space to operate when pushed back, it said.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb, or AQIM, for example, is no longer “anchored” in Mali or its original sanctuaries in Algeria but many fleeing militants have regrouped in southern Libya, the experts said.