The death of Osama bin Laden last year severely damaged al-Qaida’s finances and left the shadowy network struggling to survive, analysts say.
Deprived of its historic leader, whose legendary name drew in generous contributions from rich families in the Gulf, al-Qaida’s money troubles have forced it to scale down its activities, they said.
“When Osama was alive, al-Qaida had more money,” said a senior security official in in the northwestern Pakistan city of Peshawar.
“Before Osama’s death, we received reports showing disputes between Osama and Ayman Al-Zawahiri about money. The money was coming from Osama, and Zawahiri was the operational head,” he said.
Zawahiri was bin Laden’s deputy who took over after his Saudi boss, who was responsible for the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, was shot dead in May by US commandos in Pakistan after a 10-year manhunt.
Zawahiri has neither the stature, the influence nor the networks to collect funds from Gulf donors and the organisation’s finances quickly began to dwindle after the death, analysts said.
“He is an Egyptian, and that plays a major part,” said Riad Kahwaji of the Institute for Near East and Gulf military analysis (INEGMA).
“He still has to prove himself as a capable leader for the cause. We have a lot of reports that show that he is still being challenged by many of other prominent Qaida members,” he said.
“In the Gulf, family connections, tribal connections do matter a lot… The death of bin Laden had a major impact on the finances of al-Qaida,” said Kahwaji.
Bin Laden first began touring the Gulf to collect funds back in the 1980s when he was taking part in the jihad against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. He was received as a hero during these tours.
A Pakistani Taliban source in Karachi said the Gulf donors are still financing anti-American jihad in the region but that the Afghan Taliban were now favoured above al-Qaida.
Another Taliban source in Peshawar said that “al-Qaida still has money, but they focus now more on Afghanistan”.
“Before they were giving money to TTP (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan), but now they’re only giving them some small money to survive,” he said.
Volunteer fighters returning from Pakistan’s northwestern tribal belt have told of under-manned al-Qaida cells that are lacking in focus, short of cash and terrified of attacks by US drones.
“They have been seriously depleted, not just by financial problems but also by drone strikes and lack of morale generally and lack of leadership,” said Richard Barrett of the al-Qaida-Taliban monitoring team of the United Nations.
“Al-Qaida has been so discredited by its irrelevance to all the changes in the Arab world that it’s no longer attractive as a recipient of funds for donors,” said Mr Barrett, a former head of counter-terrorism at Britain’s MI6 intelligence agency.
Mr Kahwaji added: “People who used to support it now see that you can have an Islamic movement able to send elected members into parliament or government.
“They don’t need any more to support a rogue group living thousands of miles away from them to help them change things in their respective countries.”