WASHINGTON — Osama bin Laden, gold bug?
It appears so. At the end of 2010, Al Qaeda found itself suddenly flush after securing a $5 million ransom, and the group had to decide what to do with its windfall. At a time when the financial uncertainty of the Great Recession made gold a hot investment, Bin Laden turns out to have been as bullish about the precious metal as any Ron Paul devotee, Tea Party patriot or Wall Street financier.
In a letter that he wrote in December 2010, Bin Laden instructed Al Qaeda’s general manager to set aside a third of the ransom — nearly $1.7 million — to buy gold bars and coins.
The letter, written in Arabic, was part of the trove of intelligence seized by Navy SEALs in the raid on Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in 2011 that was declassified last month by the Central Intelligence Agency. It offers a glimpse into how Al Qaeda sought to manage its finances and what militant groups have tried to do with the money they raised.
“The overall price trend is upward,” Bin Laden wrote to Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, the Qaeda general manager. “Even with occasional drops, in the next few years the price of gold will reach $3,000 an ounce.”
Bin Laden may have lacked investing acumen — gold peaked at $1,900 an ounce five months after his death in 2011 — but he seems to have had a keen sense of the financial zeitgeist. His belief in gold’s bright future was shared at the time by many Americans and a number of financial luminaries, including George Soros and John Paulson, both of whom were investing heavily in the precious metal.
Demand was so high that in 2010, JPMorgan Chase reopened a long-closed vault used to store gold under the streets of downtown Manhattan.
It is probably safe to assume that if Al Qaeda bought gold — American officials could not say whether Bin Laden’s instructions were followed in this case — the militants did not hand it over to JPMorgan for safekeeping.
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