Before the coup, Mali was considered the most stable democratic country in Africa.
A year ago, the military overthrew Mr. Toure, whom they blamed for failing to stop an uprising of ethnic Tuareg mercenaries who had returned home from Libya after fighting alongside Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
The group has gained a foothold inside northeast Mali’s Ifhogas Mountains, near the Algerian border, despite the best attempts of the French military to eliminate the fighters from the region.
The terrorist organization has used tens of millions of dollars in the past year to recruit new members, establish training camps and purchase weapons to gain control of the region.
Thomas Creal, the lead forensic accountant with a U.S. military task force in Afghanistan who specializes in tracking terror financing, said al Qaeda was able to create the “perfect storm” in Mali because the movement has money.
“Mali did everything according to the book — built a democratic nation, used [a U.S.] grant to fuel its economic growth and then, boom, al Qaeda moves in and all hell breaks loose,” Mr. Creal said. “We missed one very important piece of the puzzle. We need to bankrupt the enemy. While we help build a nation, they build their war chest.”
The group’s money is used, in part, to keep its propaganda machine and recruitment branch in operation.
They gain support in villages “filled with desperation and poverty” by purchasing food, medicine and weapons, Ms. Aissata said. They also buy children to train as terrorists. “The extremists and the poverty threaten all of us.”
Ms. Aissata, who is also president of the Organization for Women and Children of Northern Mali, is the only woman representing the government from her region where al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has tortured women, dismembered some and stoned others to death.
“It is not me who is important here,” she said. “It is the women and children I represent who need our help, who need to be heard.”
Ms. Aissata said the terrorists’ financing already had helped them pay for more than 200 boys ranging in age from 9 to 15 years old. Some children are given to al Qaeda leaders with the promise that they will be trained in Islamic studies and Shariah law. Others are sold based on age and necessity.
A child as young as 9 will sell for much less than a 15-year-old “who can hold a weapon and fight,” a senior Malian official told The Guardian.
Counterterrorism analysts estimate that al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb spends close to $2 million each month on equipment, including weapons and financial payoffs to families whose children join local katibas, known as combat branches of the group.