Exploring al-Qaida as a business operation

A television salesman watches images featuring news of Osama bin Laden's death.

JEREMY HOBSON: So what does Osama Bin Laden's death mean for the funding of al-Qaida? We're going to explore that side of the story now with terror financing expert Bill Tupman. He's at the University of Exeter in the U.K. and he joins us now. Good morning.

BILL TUPMAN: Good mroning.

HOBSON: Well, if we think of al-Qaida as a company, and bin Laden at the top, how does the death of the chairman of al-Qaida effect the financing of the organization?

TUPMAN: You want to think of it as a franchise company rather than a great big pyramidal structure with a CEO at the top. And you really want to think of Osama as the original founder of the company who's sort of been elevated to a sort of presidential honorific role. He's not involved in the day to day stuff. And you want to think of it as a business that's got lots and lots of self financing operations going on. Although obviously the headquarters operation needs its own stream of funding.

HOBSON: So what happens to the fund raising effort for al-Qaida with the death of its president as you say?

TUPMAN: It's still possible to use him as an icon, an advertising image. You want to think of him as a sort of Che Guevara type of figure. You know, you can still sell t-shirts with his face on. The thing that Osama had going for him was all his personal contacts in Saudi Arabia with incredibly rich people. But after he had to run from Tora Bora, all the contact had to be made by intermediaries. Not by himself. The fact that he's an icon means that you can use him in a different way to raise money than the way in which he himself personally visited people to raise money.

HOBSON: Officials often tract finances to find the people that they're looking for. Do you think that terror financing tracking worked in this case? Played a role?

TUPMAN: Financing used to be tracked through the banks. In this case it's been transported as cash. After 2001, a lot of al-Qaida funding was moved around by bank men -- people carrying it around in suitcases in the form of cash and delivering it as seed core funding. You know, "Here's $50,000. That's to start you off. You've then got to create your own self-funding organization after that.

HOBSON: Bill Tupman of the University of Exeter. Thanks so much for joining us.

TUPMAN: Thank you.

About the author

Jeremy Hobson is host of Marketplace Morning Report, where he looks at business news from a global perspective to prepare listeners for the day ahead.

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