There are annual lists published of the richest individuals, corporations, and CEOs. I thought it would be useful to list the five richest terrorist groups. This list excludes nation states that materially support these orgainzations such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, Pakistan and others. Much of the money flowing into these organizations are from small donors in mosques across the world. These donations are called zakat.
As of August 2011, in terms of their annual operating budgets, the Taliban, Hezbollah, the FARC, Hamas, and al-Shabaab may be the wealthiest terrorist organizations in the world today. Al Qaeda trails, but if all its affiliated organizations are included, Al Qaeda remains in the upper echelon of the world’s terror budgets.
Taliban nets between $70 and $400 million from drug activity (of which at least $15 to $25 million is collected as ushr, Islam’s 10 percent tax on harvests) annually. In addition, the Taliban collects an estimated $150 to $200 million per year in zakat and sadaqa donations, mostly from the Arab nations of the Persian Gulf. These figures exclude extensive Taliban revenues from ransoms, extortion, and improperly diverted money from Western aid, U.N. contributions, defense contractors, and the Afghanistan government itself. My own estimate would place that subtotal of an additional $50 million per year.
Splitting the difference for the estimated range of revenues, that would bring the Taliban’s total budget to an estimate of approximately $560 million annually.
Rachel Ehrenfeld’s Funding Evil documented that Hezbollah’s annual operating budget is between $200 and $500 million. Iran provides at least $120 million of that, with the rest coming from khums, drug trafficking, and other criminal activity.
Columbia’s Marxist guerrillas, the FARC, enjoy annual revenues that range from estimates of $80 to $350 million.
For 2010, Gaza’s budget adopted by Hamas was $540 million, but that’s a larger amount than Hamas’s own budget. The Council on Foreign Relations lists Hamas’s budget as $70 million. However, the recent news that Iran is cutting or ending its aid to Hamas which would substantially diminish Hamas’s treasury. Hamas receives significant funding through charitable front groups and from Saudi Arabia.
5. Al Shabaab
A recent report from the U.N. revealed that al-Shabaab’s revenues are between $70 and $100 million per year, propelling it into the top tier of global jihadist funding.
The CIA estimated that before 9/11, al Qaeda’s annual budget was $30 million, which was almost exclusively from “donations” (zakat and sadaqa). By almost all accounts, al Qaeda’s financial situation has deteriorated since then. Other estimates place their budget from $16 to$50 million, which still puts al Qaeda itself toward the bottom of the list. However, there are indications that revenue collections of al Qaeda offshoots such as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula(AQAP), Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and al-Shabaab are flush with funds. With AQIM in particular, the evidence shows that funds are being transferred from the regional organization back to the parent al Qaeda organization itself.
It bears repeating that much of the revenue listed above, with the exception of the FARC’s drug money, originate from traditional Islamic revenue sources such as zakat, sadaqa, khums, and ushr, rather than from “secular,” criminal activity.