December 7, 2017 | Press Release

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb Relies On Drugs, Human Trafficking to Fund Terror Activities

Washington, D.C., December 7, 2017 – As the Trump Administration finalizes its National Security Strategy and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee looked to North Africa as the next frontier in the counterterrorism mission, a new Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) report finds that Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) likely earns tens of millions of dollars each year from illicit activities, such as taxing West Africa’s booming trade in illegal drugs, as well human trafficking and the smuggling of contraband including arms and cigarettes.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb: Financial Assessment” finds that AQIM once derived its resources primarily from the kidnapping of foreign nationals for multi-million dollar ransoms. However, extensive analysis of the group shows that AQIM has begun to rely more on its substantial smuggling networks across the Sahel and Sahara, leveraging tribal alliances and cooperation with other militant groups in the region.

Lead author Yaya J. Fanusie, a former CIA economic and counterterrorism analyst and now director of analysis at FDD’s Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finance, writes that the United States should continue its light-touch approach to the region by supporting French and West African forces, rather than assuming primary responsibility for the anti-AQIM mission. This strategy must include working alongside the UN to support funding efforts of the Group of Five (G5) Sahel joint force, which supplements the French-led forces on the ground. The U.S. should also commit to bolstering its intelligence resources dedicated to tracking AQIM and its partners, an effort that may facilitate the identification and sanctioning of transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) in West Africa.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb: Financial Assessment” is the seventh part of “The Terror Finance Briefing Book,” produced by FDD’s Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finance (CSIF). The previous assessments include: “Islamic State: Financial Assessment,” “Boko Haram: Financial Assessment,” “Al-Qaeda’s Branch in Syria: Financial Assessment,” “Al-Shabaab: Financial Assessment,” “Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula Financial Assessment,” and “Hezbollah: Financial Assessment.” These assessments detail the key financial strengths and vulnerabilities of top terror groups, highlight possible “wildcard” scenarios which could impact future funding, and recommend specific actions the United States should take to disrupt them.

Each report is published with an appendix listing designated individuals and entities affiliated with the respective group.

When completed, “The Terror Finance Briefing Book” will be accompanied by CSIF’s Terrorism Designees Database. Until now, there has been no public database where researchers could quickly sort terrorism designees by nationality and organization.


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About FDD:
The Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) is a Washington, DC-based non-partisan policy institute focusing on foreign policy and national security. Visit our website at and connect with us on TwitterFacebook, and YouTube.