Daily Trust (Abuja)

31 July 2014

Nigeria: Ransom - How European Countries Paid Millions to Terror Groups

Terror groups world-wide have been devising various means to finance their activities as channels of getting money to buy weapons and training members continued to be tightened.

At least $125 million in ransom money has been paid to Al Qaeda and its direct affiliates for kidnappings since 2008, mostly by European countries, according to a report by The New York Times.

The newspaper reported that Al Qaeda finances the bulk of its recruitment, training and arms purchases from ransoms paid to free Europeans, making Europe its patron.

"These payments were made almost exclusively by European governments, who funneled the money through a network of proxies, sometimes masking it as development aid, according to interviews conducted with former hostages, negotiators, diplomats and government officials in 10 countries in Europe, Africa and the Middle East," it said

According to the report, "Paying ransom, Europe bankrolls Qaeda terror" Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) received a total of $91.5 million in ransom from 2008 to 2013.

Besides, it said between 2010 and 2013, a state-controlled French company paid $40.4 million to AQIM to free four French nationals. In 2009, Switzerland paid the group $12.4m to free two of its nationals and a German, while between 2009 and 2010, Spain paid $5.9m to free three of its citizens. In 2008, Austria paid $3.2m for two Austrians.

The source of ransom for the $10.8 million paid to free one Italian and two Spaniards as well as $1.1 million to free two Canadians could not be determined.

The paper also reported that a total of $29.9 million was paid to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQIP) from 2011 to 2013. Out of the amount, Qatar and Oman paid $20.4 million to free two Finnish nationals, 1 Austrian and 1 Swiss national. The paper said those who paid $9.5 million to free three French nationals could not be determined.

Between 2011 and 2013 also, Somali militants Al Shabab received $5.1 million from Spain to free two Spaniards held by the group.

However, according to the newspaper, the foreign ministries of France, Switzerland, Austria, Italy and Germany denied that they had paid the terrorists. "The French authorities have repeatedly stated that France does not pay ransoms," said Vincent Floreani, deputy director of communication for France's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

"Kidnapping for ransom has become today's most significant source of terrorist financing," said David S. Cohen, the Treasury Department's under-secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, in a 2012 speech. "Each transaction encourages another transaction."

"The Europeans have a lot to answer for," said Vicki Huddleston, the former United States deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs, who was the ambassador to Mali in 2003 when Germany paid the first ransom. "It's a completely two-faced policy. They pay ransoms, and then deny any was paid," she said. "The danger of this is not just that it grows the terrorist movement, but it makes all of our citizens vulnerable."

In April 2013, Reuters reported that Nigeria's Boko Haram group was paid an equivalent of around $3.15 million (2 million pounds) by French and Cameroonian negotiators before freeing seven French hostages, citing a confidential Nigerian government report it obtained.

The memo did not say who paid the ransom for the family of seven, who were all released on April 19, 2013 although it said Cameroon freed some Boko Haram detainees as part of the deal.

France and Cameroon continuously denied that any ransom was paid. Nigerian authorities declined to comment.

Armed men riding on motorcycles had snatched Tanguy Moulin-Fournier, his wife, brother and the couple's four young children, the youngest of whom was four years old, on February 19, 2013 while they were on holiday near the Waza national park in north Cameroon, some 10 km (six miles) from the Nigerian border. They were believed to have been held in northeast Nigeria.

Boko Haram claimed the capture of the family of Moulin-Fournier, who worked in Cameroon for French utility firm GDF Suez.

French President Francois Hollande at the time denied any money was paid when the family was released on April 19 however it was reported that 1.6 billion CFA francs ($3.15 million) was paid. Cameroon government spokesman Issa Tchiroma Bakary said "Cameroon did not pay any ransom".

A spokesman for Nigeria's government declined to comment.

Nevertheless, French news network i-tele reported that a ransom had of $7 million had been paid, suggesting either Cameroon President Paul Biya or GDF-Suez had paid it.

Hollande has said Paris has ended a policy of paying ransoms for hostages, but suspicion that the country still does despite official denials has been a source of tension with the United States.

Also, the purported escape of a French citizen and engineer, Francis Collomp who was kidnapped by unknown gunmen suspected to be members of Ansaru islmamist terrorist group in Rimi area of Katsina State still raises questions.

He was kidnapped in December, 2012 but escaped from the kidnappers den in circumstances that the police in Kaduna described as "mysterious."

However, there were doubts that the Frenchman actually escaped from his captives, but that a princely ransom must have been paid to free Collomp who jetted out to France immediately thereafter.

As sources for oiling their activities are constantly being broken, terror organisations are also graduating to other means to "survive" and kidnap-for-ransom has been beneficial.

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