Nasser Weddady writes: When northern Mali fell to terrorists and foreign militants last April, a debate began over the causes of the country’s chaotic collapse. Many argued that it was a direct byproduct of NATO’s 2011 intervention in Libya, which sent thousands of well-armed men across the Sahara to Mali. Others pointed to Mali’s internal corruption and ethnic divisions. But little was said about the most important factor: Europeans have knowingly bankrolled Islamist radicals with ransom payments since at least 2003.
Sixteen years before the 9/11 attacks, the United States sold Iran weapons indirectly in the hopes of freeing American hostages held by Iran’s proxy, Hezbollah. The Iran-contra debacle taught America, among other things, that paying ransom money only emboldens terrorist groups and their backers. Yet when confronted with the same challenge, European leaders have failed to heed that lesson, and have filled the coffers of terrorist groups for at least a decade.
The so-called global war on terror has been hobbled by these payoffs. The same nations that until very recently had troops in Afghanistan fighting terrorism have been turning over cash to terrorists in Africa.
Over the past decade, Britain, Germany, Italy, Spain, France, Austria, Sweden and the Netherlands have paid more than $130 million to terrorist groups, mostly through mediators, to free European hostages.
European leaders were understandably desperate to save the lives of their citizens. But their efforts have backfired because the paying of ransoms has merely turned their citizens into a lucrative commodity for cash-hungry jihadis. Groups like Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa have grown accustomed to ransom payments and reacted by seeking to capture as many Europeans — from aid workers to volunteers to tourists — as they could. In contrast, terrorists know that America won’t negotiate with hostage-takers and is much more likely to use force to free its citizens.
It’s easier to identify the problem than it is to prescribe a viable solution. Weddady says: “The only thing that Mr. Belmokhtar and his ilk should expect from the international community is overwhelming force of the sort Algeria demonstrated during the hostage crisis last month.”
That reminds me of this joke: What’s worse than being taken hostage by al Qaeda? Getting rescued by the Algerians.