From 2009 through 2011, AQIM gained further notoriety by kidnapping more than a dozen predominantly European nationals.
After the June 2009 beheading of Briton Edwin Dyer in Niger, the Daily Mail guessed that his slaying could have been “part of a double message of defiance by al-Qaeda ahead of Mr. Obama’s speech in Cairo today.” According to security expert Hamid Ghomrassa, the first message was that “Al-Qaeda is a force in the region that cannot be ignored,” while the second message was that “from now on the West should understand that paying ransoms to get back hostages is the only way to deal.” The paper noted that Europeans and Canadians who were “kidnapped in similar circumstances” were let go in exchange for ransom payments despite the British government’s “blanket policy against” paying ransoms to terrorist groups.David Williams and Arthur Martin, “British Man ‘Beheaded’ by Al Qaeda Terrorists,” Daily Mail (London), June 4, 2009, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1190477/British-man-Edwin-Dyer-beheaded-Al-Qaeda-terrorists.html.
When three Spanish aid workers kidnapped in November 2009 were freed by AQIM in late 2010, Reuters speculated that they might have been freed in exchange for prisoners being held in Mauritania. Though officials in Mauritania remained silent regarding the alleged prisoner swap. Reuters cited security analysts labeling of AQIM as opportunistic, making such exchanges likely for the return of their own or to fundraise.Tracy Rucinski and Mathieu Bonkoungou, “Freed Al Qaeda Hostages Arrive Back in Spain,” Reuters, August 23, 2010, http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/08/24/idUSLDE67M1V2.
By the end of 2012, the New York Times reported that AQIM had earned "as much as $90 million or more in ransoms over the past decade, turning it into one of the region’s wealthiest, best-armed militant groups.” One of the militants interviewed by the paper bragged openly that, “The source of our financing is the Western countries. They are paying for jihad.” The paper also quoted the Treasury Department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, David Cohen, who said that the average ransom payment to AQIM had increased from $4.5 million per hostage in 2010 to $5.4 million per hostage in 2011.Adam Nossiter, “Millions in Ransoms Fuel Militants’ Clout in West Africa,” New York Times, December 12, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/13/world/africa/kidnappings-fuel-extremists-in-western-africa.html?pagewanted=all.