The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

December 29, 2013

$0.60 for cake: Al-Qaida records every expense

(Continued)

TERRORIST EXPENSE REPORTS

This detailed accounting system allows al-Qaida to keep track of the significant sums of money involved in feeding, training and recruiting thousands of fighters. It's also an attempt to keep track of the fighters themselves, who often operate remotely.

The majority of the invoices found on a cement floor in a building in Timbuktu are scribbled by hand, on post-it notes, on lined math paper or on the backs of envelopes, as if operatives in the field were using whatever writing surface they could find. Others are typed, sometimes repeating the same items, in what may serve as formal expense reports for their higher-ups. Al-Qaida clearly required such expense reports — in a letter from the stash, middle managers chide a terrorist for not handing his in on time.

In informal open-air markets such as those of Timbuktu, vendors didn't have receipts to hand out. So, traders say, members of al-Qaida came in pairs, one to negotiate the sale, and the other to record prices on a notepad. This practice is reflected in the fact that almost all the receipts are written in Arabic, a language few residents of Timbuktu know how to write.

The fighters would ask for a price, and then write it down in their Bloc Note, a notebook brand sold locally, said pharmacist Ibrahim Djitteye.

"It surprised me at first," he said. "But I came to the conclusion that they are here for a very specific mission.... And when you are on assignment, you need to give a report. They have their own higher-ups, who are expecting them to account for what they spent."

The corporate nature of the organization is also on display in the types of activities they funded.

For example, two receipts, for $4,000 and $6,800, are listed as funds for "workshops," another concept borrowed from business. A flier found in another building occupied by their fighters confirms that al-Qaida held the equivalent of corporate training retreats. It lists detailed schedules: Early morning exercise from 5 to 6:30 a.m.; lessons on how to use a GPS from 10 to 10:30 a.m.; arms training from 10:30 a.m. to noon; and various afternoon classes on preaching to other Muslims, nationalism and democracy.

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