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Al-Qaida's Receipts: From 60-Cent Cake To A $6,800 Workshop

The Associated Press has posted images of more than 100 receipts believed to have been left behind by al-Qaida operatives in Timbuktu, Mali, that show how "the extremists assiduously tracked their cash flow, recording purchases as small as a single light bulb."

According to the wire service:

"The accounting system on display in the documents ... is a mirror image of what researchers have discovered in other parts of the world where al-Qaida operates, including Afghanistan, Somalia and Iraq. The terror group's documents around the world also include corporate workshop schedules, salary spreadsheets, philanthropy budgets, job applications, public relations advice and letters from the equivalent of a human resources division.

"Taken together, the evidence suggests that far from being a fly-by-night, fragmented terror organization, al-Qaida is attempting to behave like a multinational corporation, with what amounts to a company-wide financial policy across its different chapters."

The AP adds that:

"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 detailed records include expenses as small as 60 cents for a piece of cake and as large as $6,800 for a "workshop."

This news reminds us that earlier this year, The Daily Beast reported that U.S. spy agencies had intercepted a sort-of "conference call" involving senior al-Qaida operatives. Later, The Daily Beast's correspondents conceded that it wasn't a "conference call" in the sense that most would think. "It was a conference call, but not over a telephone line," reporter Eli Lake tweeted. It was some type of "virtual meeting."

Talk of an al-Qaida conference call, though, inspired this amusing "exclusive transcript of al-Qaida's worldwide conference call" from New York magazine. Here's a snippet:

"Ayman al-Zawahiri: Hold on a moment, Nasser. Abdul, is that you?

"Abdul: Yeah, it's me. It's just, it seems pretty clear to me that some U.S. intelligence agency or another is spying on pretty much every form of communication at this point. Holding a conference call in which the world's top al-Qaida leaders discuss their terror plots just seems like an incredibly bad idea.

"Ayman al-Zawahiri: Heh, come on Abdul, nobody's listening.

"Abdul: What? Have you not been reading these Guardian reports?

"Ayman al-Zawahiri: I think I heard something about it a while ago, but it didn't sound that interesting.

"Adbul: Are you serious?

"Jafar: [ mockingly] 'Ooohh, I'm Abdul, I like to read British newspapers. I'm sooo fancy.' "

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Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.
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