Center for Strategic Communication

by Steven R. Corman

An article published by Reuters earlier this week contained an interesting passage that implies that al Qaeda is using a new communication tactic: Fundraising videos. Reporting on a Saudi roundup of 28 suspected al Qaeda operatives, the article said the suspects were using a recorded message from Ayman al Zawahiri to help raise money from Saudis. Quoting the tape, which the Saudis aired on state television, al Zawahiri said

The bearer of this message is one of our trusted brothers, therefore please give him your donations for hundreds of the families of captives and martyrs in Pakistan and Afghanistan

Reportedly the video was smuggled into the country on the cell phone of someone visiting Mecca.

There are a couple of interesting things about this. First, it represents something of a new (to me) use of media for al Qaeda, which in the past has used broadcasts, recordings, and internet to deliver ideological messages (which do aid in fundraising) and to recruit. Now it is direct video appeals for project-based fundraising, in a way that is uncannily like a U.S. charity or political organization. Could this innovation possibly be due to the influence of Azzam the Amercan?

The second interesting thing is the purported purpose of the funds as stated by al Zawahiri. It is not for general al Qaeda operations but for social services to be provided to families of captured and fallen al Qaeda “soldiers.” Authorities have know for some time that al Qaeda and groups like it raise funds for a mix of “legitimate” and nefarious activities. In the end, the goal is the same:

Charitable investments by terrorist groups [are] a way for them to advertise their ideals among potential sympathizers. Indeed, charities not only provide a conduit for money laundering, they also truly benefit people in need. As a result, those who at least partly share the goals of the terrorist group are likely to be more willing to make their contribution to the fight. [Pierre-Emmanuel Ly (2007). The charitable activities of terrorist organizations, Public Choice, 131, p. 178]

Someone I talked to who has seen classified intelligence on this matter told me this is the tip of an iceberg. Geez I sure  hope not. Those Sally Struthers commercials are bad enough. I don’t think I could bear to watch Osama pleading on Nick at Night for $1 a day to help the poor Muhajadeen orphans.