Interrupting al Qaeda's flow of funds

Stuart Levey:

Last month, al-Qaeda was dealt a major blow. In losing Mustafa Abu al-Yazid -- also known as Sheik Saeed al-Masri -- the terrorist organization was deprived of one of its founding members and also its third-highest official. An early confidante of Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, Yazid has essentially served as al-Qaeda's "chief financial officer," coordinating the group's fundraising and overseeing the distribution of money essential to its survival. While Yazid's death deprives al-Qaeda of a uniquely valuable commander, the ideology that underpins terrorism continues to attract adherents, and we must redouble our efforts to prevent the emergence of the next generation of Yazid's replacements.

More than anyone else, Yazid possessed links to the deep-pocketed donors in the Arabian Peninsula and beyond who have historically formed the backbone of al-Qaeda's financial support network. Wealthy donors gave their money and, more important, placed their trust in Yazid, which makes him exceedingly difficult to replace. With Yazid gone, confidence that donations to al-Qaeda will reach their intended destination will continue to erode.

Over the past several years, the United States and allied governments have made it a top priority to target financial facilitators such as Yazid, thereby disrupting al-Qaeda's access to money. When experienced financial facilitators are arrested or killed, al-Qaeda is forced to turn over their duties to increasingly junior and untested members. These low-ranking members often do not know and are not trusted by potential donors. They also lack a deep understanding of the most effective ways to move money.

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It will be interesting to see who will be picked to replace this guy. His dual role as banker and operations chief probably will mean that two people will be selected. Finding the new financing chief may be the most critical of the two. It could give us a shot at tracing the money back to its source.

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