The world's most fearsome terrorist organization is run a lot like a corporation, complete with financial managers who get on your case if you don't file expense reports properly. Working for Al Qaeda is just like working in your office, too.
When you think about how Al Qaeda operates, you don't expect to hear about what is effectively a human resources department, or an intricate finance department, but apparently those both exist within Al Qaeda, according to the Associated Press, which found a box of Al Qaeda documents left behind in Timbuktu, Mali. The most interesting discovery was a meticulously kept trail of receipts for everything from groceries to oil purchases during the group's short stint there:
An inordinate number of receipts are for groceries, suggesting a diet of macaroni with meat and tomato sauce, as well as large quantities of powdered milk. There are 27 invoices for meat, 13 for tomatoes, 11 for milk, 11 for pasta, seven for onions, and many others for tea, sugar, and honey.
They record the $0.60 cake one of their fighters ate, and the $1.80 bar of soap another used to wash his hands. They list a broom for $3 and bleach for $3.30. These relatively petty amounts are logged with the same care as the $5,400 advance they gave to one commander, or the $330 they spent to buy 3,300 rounds of ammunition.
Apparently Al Qaeda keeps track of each and every receipt for each and every expense as part of a complicated accounting system meant to govern its many smaller factions spread across the world. "They have so few ways to keep control of their operatives, to rein them in and make them do what they are supposed to do. They have to run it like a business," William McCants, a former adviser to the U.S. State Department's Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, told the AP. The strict financial responsibility is a trait given to the group by former leader Osama Bin Laden, who ran million dollar corporations before the terror group.
And you do not want to cross Al Qaeda's accountants — in one note discovered by the AP, "middle managers chide a terrorist for not handing his in on time."
Al Qaeda fighters were required to have receipts for the smallest purchases. The AP found a $0.60 receipt for a piece of cake, and one for a jar of mustard worth $1.60, and one for a bar of soap worth $1.80. If a store or vendor didn't have receipts, Al Qaeda fighters are required to shop in pairs so one person can record each and every penny spent. Most of Al Qaeda's bookkeeping tracks grocery purchases, though.
Al Qaeda, where terrorism and paperwork come hand in hand. The entire AP report is interesting, and a little hilarious, and deserves your full attention.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.