WASHINGTON, Oct. 21 (UPI) -- Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is operating on ransom money from the West, with kidnappings the largest single source of funding, officials say.
The Los Angeles Times Monday cited two recent incidents in which multimillion-dollar ransoms were paid to release Dominik Neubauer, 26, and Austrian students, and an unidentified Finnish couple, from al-Qaida in Yemen.
AQAP is the group responsible for attempting to blow up U.S. aircraft and topple the United States-backed government in Yemen, Western and Yemeni officials said.
AQAP has extorted $20 million in ransom money in the past two years, said Alistair Burt, formerly Britain's top diplomatic official in the Middle East.
"AQAP's attack capability in Yemen and against its friends and neighbors will only strengthen" if the payments continue, Burt said at a recent diplomatic meeting in New York.
AQAP's affiliate leader, Naser Abdel-Karim Wahisi, bragged of the ransom money in a 2012 letter to leader of an affiliated group in North Africa, saying, "Kidnapping hostages is an easy spoil, which I may describe as a profitable trade and a precious treasure."
"We acknowledge this dilemma," said David Cohen, the top U.S. Treasury official in charge of disrupting the finances of terrorist groups, noting "so many lives are at risk of terrorist violence around the globe."
In June, the Group of Eight, comprised of the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia, issued a statement saying its members "unequivocally reject the payment of ransoms to terrorists."
The newspaper noted the governments of Austria and Finland said they didn't pay ransoms for their citizens' release but added two Western officials speaking on condition of anonymity said those denials were for public consumption and that the governments indeed paid to have hostages released.