US investigators are racing to identify a “golden chain” of al-Qaeda financiers amid claims that some of them visited Osama bin Laden at the house near Islamabad where he was killed, it has emerged.
The terrorist network is believed to have struggled for money, prompting bin Laden to risk meeting wealthy backers at his Abbottabad compound, UK newspaper The Times reported.
A senior Taliban commander and bin Laden confidant said the al-Qaeda leader had told him that money men from Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, came to the house.
“He said fundraising was crucial but he limited the number of contributors he saw because of the risk,” the commander told Newsweek. “He was afraid these face-to-face meetings would lead his enemies to his house.”
US Treasury officials, who are combing millions of pages of computer files removed from bin Laden’s house for clues to the identity of the donors, aim to starve al-Qaeda of cash.
David Cohen, the head of the Treasury department’s terrorism and financial intelligence branch, said he was hopeful the donors would be tracked down.
“We need to follow the money,” he said.
“Whether it’s an organised crime group or a terrorist organisation, they all need money to keep going, from training, recruiting, paying the operatives, buying supplies. And if you can go after the money supply, you can substantially weaken their ability to operate.”
While the focus of attention until now has been on discovering possible plots, intelligence officers told The Sunday Times that the most important information was expected to be about the funding of al-Qaeda.
“Frankly any potential plots are likely to now be abandoned and key figures will be on the run,” a US official said.
“But the money men are people with businesses who can’t up and move like that and we hope to pin down organisations we suspected as fronts.”