An al-Qaeda letter found in an abandoned building in Mali indicates the extremist group was paid $1.1 million to release Canadian diplomats Robert Fowler and Louis Guay in 2009.
Documents obtained by The Associated Press from a building once occupied by al-Qaeda fighters in Mali offer a glimpse into both the inner workings of a highly structured organization that requires its commanders to file monthly expense reports.
The jihadists quibble over the amount of money raised by the 2008 kidnapping of Fowler, the highest-ranking United Nations official in Niger, and Guay. After years of trying to discipline him, the leaders of al-Qaeda's North African branch sent one final letter to their most difficult employee, Moktar Belmoktar.
"Rather than walking alongside us in the plan we outlined, he managed the case as he liked," they write indignantly.
"Here we must ask, who handled this important abduction poorly? … Does it come from the unilateral behaviour along the lines of our brother Abu Abbas, which produced a blatant inadequacy: Trading the weightiest case (Canadian diplomats!!) for the most meagre price (700,000 euros)!!"
Fowler and Guay were kidnapped in December 2008, and held until April 2009. All involved denied any payment was involved. At the time, 700,000 euros was worth about $1.1 million Cdn.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird was asked about the report when he spoke to reporters Wednesday.
"I'm not going to react to a story on some alleged report from al-Qaeda," Baird said, adding Canadian officials worked "diligently" on behalf of Fowler and Guay.
"I think we've said it before and I'll say it again, that our government does not pay ransoms and does not negotiate with terrorists," said Baird.
Rick Roth, Baird's spokesman, said Tuesday the government also does "not discuss operational details that might compromise the safe return of someone else in the future," he tweeted.
The employee, international terrorist Moktar Belmoktar, responded the way talented employees with bruised egos have in corporations the world over: He quit and formed his own competing group.
And within months, he carried out two lethal operations that killed 101 people in all: one of the largest hostage-takings in history at a BP-operated gas plant in Algeria in January, and simultaneous bombings at a military base and a French uranium mine in Niger just last week.
Referred case to central
Belmoktar's men held Fowler and Guay for four months, and in a book he later published, Fowler said he didn't know if a ransom was paid.
The Mali letter says the cell leaders referred the case of Belmoktar to al-Qaeda central to force concessions in the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, a plan stymied when Belmoktar struck his own deal for 700,000 euros (about $934,000) for both men.
That's far below the $4 million per hostage that European governments were normally paying, according to global intelligence unit Stratfor.
The cell's complaint reflects how al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, initially considered one of the group's weaker wings, rose to prominence by bankrolling its operation with an estimated $89 million US raised by kidnapping-for-ransom foreign aid workers and tourists.
No less than the now-deceased al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden endorsed their business model, according to documents retrieved in the terror leader's hideout in Pakistan.