American intelligence agencies estimate that Islamic terrorists in North Africa have obtained at least $120 million in ransoms, mostly from European nations, in the last decade. The terrorists have demanded ransoms of over $20 million each for some of their European captives. They always settle for less, although the average in the last few years has been about $5 million per European captive. In a pinch, the terrorists will grab a wealthy local, but usually only get a few thousand for these and risk starting a blood feud with a powerful tribe or clan. Westerners are preferred. While most of the tourists now stay away, there are still business people and aid workers.
While there is public pressure in Europe to pay ransoms, the governments don't want to because they recognize that the money supports Islamic terrorism and encourages more kidnappings. The African governments oppose paying big ransoms as well because the terrorists do most of their damage locally. To make matters worse, there are multiple Islamic terrorist groups competing to see who can raise the most cash from European captives. Too often the European nations pay because of the intense political and media pressure to "do something" to rescue the widely publicized captives. This is nothing new in Europe, especially the south, where there have often been informal deals with Islamic terrorists to provide sanctuary or lenient prosecution and early release in return for immunity from terrorist attacks.
All this ransom money has enabled Islamic terrorist organizations to survive and even thrive in North Africa. While driven out of Algeria in the 1990s, the Islamic terrorists have found that money will buy them sanctuary in the dry Sahel (the semi-desert belt below the Sahara Desert). The tribes in this thinly populated region are frequently willing to take in fugitives for a price and are often in rebellion against the local government. This is especially true of the Tuareg tribes who are prominent throughout most of the Sahel. This has led to many alliances between al Qaeda and Tuareg tribes. The ransom money not only bought sanctuary, it bought friendship with many of these tribes and lots of eager young tribesmen joining the terrorists.
In addition to the ransoms, the terrorists have also been handling security and transportation for cocaine (flown in from South America) and other drugs smuggled north to the Mediterranean and then into Europe. The drug gangs pay well for these labor intensive services but not as well as the ransoms. Sometimes Europeans are spotted by the drug smugglers, who call in other Islamic terrorists to make the grab. The Western hostages are the prize, not the pay received for guarding drug shipments.
While the Islamic terrorists talks about religion and righteous indignation, they really keep going with cash. Take away the money and the terrorist organizations shrink to a few armed and angry cranks. Still dangerous but more nuisance than threat.