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Terror on a Shoestring: Paris Attacks Likely Cost $10,000 or Less

U.S. officials say the AK-47s would have been the terrorists' biggest expense.
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The multi-pronged ISIS attack on Paris may have been sophisticated and shattering — but it wasn't expensive.

The entire operation likely didn't cost more than $10,000 when weapons, explosives, housing and transportation are factored in, NBC News has learned.

"I would note that although the attacks were coordinated, the actual method was basic bombs and guns," one senior counterterrorism official said.

A second counterterrorism official agreed that the attacks could have been carried out for little more than the price of an Hermes bag.

"That number does not seem implausible," he said of the $10,000 estimate, adding that the AK-47s bought on the black market would have been the biggest expense.

Image: Bullet holes are seen in the terrace windows of Cafe Bonne Biere
Bullet holes are seen in the terrace windows of Cafe Bonne Biere, as people lay flowers and candles in front, in Paris, France, 15 November 2015.IAN LANGSDON / EPA

U.S. officials believe groups like al Qaeda and ISIS don't spend lavishly on attacks.

The $500,000 price tag for 9/11 is certainly far more than the fistful of dollars Palestinians spent on scavenged black powder and recycled ignition switches in the 1970s, but U.S. officials say other recent attacks have been far cheaper:

  • The twin truck bombings of U.S, embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed more than 200 people in 1998: $10,000.
  • The bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, which killed 17 people in 2000: $5,000 to $10,000.
  • A plot to attack U.S. ships in the Strait of Hormuz, which was foiled in 2002: $130,000.
  • The suicide and car bombings in Bali, which killed more than 200 in 2002: $74,000.

Because Bali is a resort area, it's more expensive for terrorists to operate there than in, say, Yemen's seaport of Aden, which is the poorest place on the Arabian Peninsula.

Image: Foreign tourists stand amid the chard remains of a bomb blast in Denpasar
Foreign tourists stand amid the chard remains of a bomb blast in Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2002, that destroyed a nightclub late Saturday night, killing more than 180 people and injuring more than 300 others.Achmad Ibrahim / AP, file

But even in New York, one of the most expensive cities in the world, terrorism can be carried out on a shoe-string.

An NBC News analysis of court records from the 1993 World Trade Center bombing showed the total cost was around $18,000, including the purchase of equipment, rental of the van used in the bombing, purchase of a car, plane tickets, and rental of two apartments, a garage and the self-storage space.

The accounting shows that terrorists can be deadbeats, too: not included in the total is $6,000 in unpaid phone bills.

The 9/11 attacks were different because they involved extensive travel and pilot training. But the $500,000 cost hardly broke the bank of al Qaeda, which had a $35 million budget at the time, according to a CIA estimate.

Image: Damaged cars and debris cover the ground outside the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi in 1998
Damaged cars and debris cover the ground outside the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, Friday Aug. 7, 1998, after a huge bomb explosion ripped apart a building and damaged the American Embassy in background, killing dozens of people and injuring some 400 people.Sayyid Azim / AP, file

Much of the detail on how much terror attacks cost comes from a little-known 9-11 Commission report that found the Sept. 11 plotters spent between $400,000 and $500,000 to plan and carry out the hijackings — with up to $300,000 of that for living expenses.

The operation was so efficient that the hijackers returned $26,000 to al Qaeda in the days prior to the attacks.

“Terrorism is not an expensive sport,” said one former senior Treasury Department official who tracked terrorists’ money.