explainer

'It's like fuel for the car': The deadliest terror groups in the world are also the richest.

Five days ago, suicide bombers coordinated an attack in Sri Lanka that took the lives of more than 300 people.

The Easter attacks represent one of the most lethal and serious terrorist operations since the September 11 attacks in the US, outside of attacks within active conflict zones. Islamic State has claimed responsibility.

Often when we think ‘terrorist’ we picture men hiding in caves with guns and forget that there are incredibly wealthy operatives behind these massacres, that in many cases are run through legitimate companies.

The Quicky have explored the funding of terrorists. You can listen below. Post continues after podcast.

Many of these terrorist groups are billion dollar businesses, but despite the seemingly expensive attacks they carry out, it’s a small investment on their part for a (in their eyes) big payoff.

In other words, it doesn’t run them dry to carry out an attack like Sri Lanka.

“To launch a terrorist attack, you don’t need billions of dollars. It costs a couple of thousands of dollars. If we take for example the most expensive terror attack – 911, it cost Al Qaeda half a million dollars,” Forbes business journalist Itai Zehorai told The Quicky. 

To put that in perspective, that attack cost the American government $3.3 trillion.

The entire Australian economy is $1.4 trillion dollars.

Apple, the most profitable company in the world, generated $50 billion in profit last year.

A small ‘investment’ offers a big payoff for Al Qaeda.

So who are the richest terror groups in the world? Forbes and Mr Zehorai crunched the numbers at the end of 2017, which was a particularly bloody year for terror.

Eight huge events were carried out and each one had more than 100 fatalities.

We’ve already had three terror attacks in 2019 that have killed upwards of 100 people. That doesn’t even include attacks like Christchurch which killed dozens. 

IS, the group responsible for the Easter massacre are only ranked number five on the list, with a total annual income of $200 million.

Here are the top three:

Hizballah

Hizballah has a total annual income of $1.1 billion.

Translated, their name means ‘Party of Allah.’

They are a Shia Islamist political party and militant group based in Lebanon.

They started in the 80s after Israel invaded Lebanon and occupied part of their country. A group of Muslim clerics got together and with support from Iran, they created Hizballah.

They now have representatives in government, and their own radio and TV services, as well as their own military.

“Hizballah is getting most of his funds from Iran,” Mr Zehorai told The Quicky.

“[But] like a conservative investor they diversify their portfolio investment so they don’t rely only on [just]Iran, they use other money from laundering, forgery, smuggling, weapon trade, and of course trading drugs,” he explained.

Hizballah makes $300 million a year just from trading drugs. The group has a worldwide network that even extends down to us in Australia.

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The Taliban

The Taliban makes $800 million annually.

This Sunni Islamic fundamentalist political movement in Afghanistan emerged in 1994 during the Afghan civil war. They were mostly students who wanted to take back power from local war lords.

Between 1996 and 2001, they controlled the majority of Afghanistan and enforced very strict Sharia law that saw many Afghani women subjected to brutal treatment.

They were overthrown by a US led invasion following the September 11 attacks.

Their main source of income comes from the drug trade. In fact, they make $400 million a year from that production.

“They made Afghanistan the biggest exporter and producer of heroin in the world. Approximately 90% of the world’s heroin comes from here,” said Mr Zehorai.

The organisation also makes hundreds of millions from the pirate mining of natural resources within the regions under its control, collecting ransom for hostages and donations.

Hamas

Hamas total income is $700 million a year.

They are based in Palestine, and like The Taliban are a Sunni Islamist fundamentalist group.

They started in 1987 as an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim brotherhood. They wanted to liberate Palestine from Israeli occupation.

They have been in control of the people of Gaza for more than a decade.

“They use direct control over the population, using the tax network. They redirect significant capital flowing into Gaza,” said Mr Zehorai of the way Hamas makes its money.

They also have real estate, and businesses, added Mr Zehorai.

Sri Lankan officials inspect St. Sebastian's Church in Negombo, north of Colombo
Sri Lankan officials inspect St. Sebastian's Church in Negombo, north of Colombo, after multiple explosions targeting churches and hotels on Easter Sunday. Image: Getty.

Al Qaeda and Islamic State round out the top five most wealthy terror groups, and as Forbes points out, it is no coincidence that the deadliest terror organisations in the world are also the wealthiest.

“The financial component of terror organisations is critical, and its indispensability for terror attacks is like fuel for the car,” Amos Gilad, former director of the Defence Ministry’s Political-Military Affairs Bureau told the publication. 

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