Bin Laden started his terrorist career as a rich patron of Islamic mercenaries, fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda, the umbrella organization he helped establish in Afghanistan 12 years ago, now employs 3,000 civilians and 2,000 armed troops. It also operates communications equipment, training bases and safe houses around the world, which are used by Muslim extremists from Egypt to the Philippines.
Bin Laden has financed his terrorist network in a variety of ways including the proceeds from his inheritance of $50 million to $60 million (see box, p. 40). Here is where the money comes from:
Drugs Al Qaeda skims a cut of Afghanistan’s heroin exports, worth about $8 billion wholesale a year. The take is elastic, based on Al Qaeda’s needs, and drug enforcement officials estimate Al Qaeda has stockpiled opium worth $2 billion at today’s prices. Rachel Ehrenfeld, the director of the Center for the Study of Corruption in New York, says: “They are selling it in Russia and Europe. It’s the main source of terrorism funding, and they are using legitimate sources to cover it up–groceries, fruit stands, garages.”