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Saying No to Ransom Demands

Treasury Undersecretary David Cohen (file)
Treasury Undersecretary David Cohen (file)

The U.S. is working with countries to criminalize the financing of terrorism, and ensure that their governments can identify terrorist assets.

The success of the international community in degrading the ability of al-Qa’ida, its affiliates, and other terrorist organizations to raise funds through more traditional methods of terrorist financing has forced them to find alternate ways of raising money.

Thus many of them have turned to kidnapping for ransom. Terrorist groups such as al-Qa’ida in the Maghreb, al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula, Tehrik-e Taliban in Pakistan and the Philippines-based Abu Sayyaf Group “have turned this age-old tactic into a successful money-generating scheme, turning kidnapping for ransom into our most significant terrorist financing threat today,” said United States Under Secretary of the Treasury David Cohen at Chatham House, a London-based, non-profit, non-governmental organization that analyzes major international issues and current affairs.

“The U.S. government estimates that terrorist organizations have collected approximately $120 million in ransom payments over the past eight years,” he said.

This money funds not only their deadly attacks that victimize primarily civilians, but also such activities as recruiting and indoctrinating new members, paying salaries, establishing training camps, acquiring weapons and communications gear, and helping to support the next generation of violent extremists.

In order to deprive extremist groups of their most lucrative source of income, and eliminate ransoms as an incentive for further kidnapping operations, the United States does not pay ransoms or make other concessions to kidnappers. As a result of this long-standing policy, hostage takers are more likely to target citizens of countries that are seen as willing to pay for their return, said Under Secretary Cohen.

Recognizing this challenge, the United States is working with countries where kidnapping for ransom is a problem, to criminalize the financing of terrorism, and ensure that their governments can identify terrorist assets.

This allows governments to freeze such ill-gotten assets, thus denying terrorists the ability to benefit from their crime.

“The struggle against kidnapping for ransom, like the broader struggle against global terrorism, is most certainly a long-term effort that will require us to outlast – and continually outthink – our enemies,” said Under Secretary Cohen.

“That may be easier said than done, but it can be done, if we build the consensus and capacity necessary to do it together.”