How Does Al Qaeda Spend Its Money? Just Check Out These Expense Reports.

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Dec. 30 2013 6:20 PM

How Does Al Qaeda Spend Its Money? Just Check Out These Expense Reports.

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Men watch as the mayor of the northern Malian city of Gao paints over a billboard left by an offshoot of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

Photo by SIA KAMBOU/AFP/Getty Images

The Associated Press on Monday offered a glimpse into the inner workings of Al Qaeda trough a familiar channel—expense reports. The AP posted 100 receipts recovered from a building in Timbuktu, Mali that housed Al Qaeda’s North African branch. The AP found an organization that tracks its spending down to the penny. “In more than 100 receipts left in a building occupied by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb in Timbuktu earlier this year, the extremists assiduously tracked their cash flow, recording purchases as small as a single light bulb,” the AP reports.

How assiduous are we talking? Here’s an example, and some great scene setting, from the AP’s Rukmini Callimachi:

The convoy of cars bearing the black al-Qaida flag came at high speed, and the manager of the modest grocery store thought he was about to get robbed. Mohamed Djitteye rushed to lock his till and cowered behind the counter. He was dumbfounded when instead, the al-Qaida commander gently opened the grocery's glass door and asked for a pot of mustard. Then he asked for a receipt. Confused and scared, Djitteye didn't understand. So the jihadist repeated his request. Could he please have a receipt for the $1.60 purchase? This transaction in northern Mali shows what might seem an unusual preoccupation for a terror group: Al-Qaida is obsessed with documenting the most minute expenses.
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The receipts provide an insight into the minutiae of the organization’s obsessive bookkeeping. “They record the $0.60 cake one of their fighters ate, and the $1.80 bar of soap another used to wash his hands,” the AP write. “They list a broom for $3 and bleach for $3.30. These relatively petty amounts are logged with the same care as the $5,400 advance they gave to one commander, or the $330 they spent to buy 3,300 rounds of ammunition." But, the ledgers also provide insights into the lives and habits of Al Qaeda fighters. “An inordinate number of receipts are for groceries, suggesting a diet of macaroni with meat and tomato sauce, as well as large quantities of powdered milk,” the AP reports.

To take a look at the full list, check out the AP’s full document of its findings.

Elliot Hannon is a writer in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter.

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