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What Keeps ISIS Running: the Funding and Support of a Terror Organization

What Keeps ISIS Running: the Funding and Support of a Terror Organization

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Money is power, and that is no different for politicians or businessmen- or terrorists. Behind the phenomena of fundamentalism and political violence is the ever-present element of economic interest. The world we are living in today, and the neoliberal system that has taken a hold of almost every market economy in the planet has created a variety of actors that, first and foremost, seek their own economic benefit. Terrorism, one of the biggest global threats of the twenty-first century, represents the largest enemy that the Western world wishes to defeat. One of the most effective ways to do so would be by cutting off the flow of all economic and military resources to terrorist organizations.

However, groups like Al-Qaeda, and more recently the Islamic State (ISIS), seem to be very well-funded with a constant flow of resources. How is this possible? Where are these funds coming from? And in reality, who is interested in keeping groups like ISIS alive?

Although the US seems to have endorsed a campaign to dismantle terrorist financing after 9/11, today ISIS represents the wealthiest terrorist organization in the world at a worth close to $2 billion.[1] ISIS (whose official Arabic name is ad-Dawlah al-Islāmiyah fīl-ʿIrāq wash-Shām), more recently known as IS (Islamic State), has been able to raise millions of dollars locally and from donors abroad. IS is a large, sophisticated and well-organized terrorist group that has a small army of foreign and local fighters, established oil refining and even collects taxes.

However, for all these operations to function, IS incurs in a substantial amount of expenses that include military equipment, training, safe houses, surveillance equipment, roads, civilian bus services, food, technology (it owns its own high tech media centre Al-Hayat, used for producing torture videos and a propaganda magazine called Dabiq), etc. It pays salaries, rent and medical expenses to its members, and always has to guard against internal corruption. In order to know where the all money for these expenses is coming from, it is important to follow the money trail.

To a certain degree, the Islamic State is self-financing. It raises most of its money from the territories it feeds off of, namely Syria and Iraq, and with them, it has taken control of important resources like dams, granaries and oil installations. IS’ most important revenue source is the smuggling of oil from the dozen oil fields it controls in these nations. As reported by the U.S. Treasury Department last year, an estimate of their revenue ranged from $1 to $2 million a day. The Islamic State is also imposing strict taxes on its citizens, charging for services such as electricity and telephone access (paid in cash to IS’ own revenue agency, Al Hisba), and imposes customs on imported goods.

Furthermore, IS has become increasingly organized in order to take advantage of local moneymaking opportunities. An significant source of income for IS has been hostage-taking and kidnappings for profit (by 2014, their extortion network in Mosul was generating $12 million per month)[2]. The organization has also resorted to bank robbery, selling illegal drugs, looting museums and selling artifacts illicitly, peddling crude oil on the black market to Turkey, and even owning Internet cafes. But smuggling oil and ransacking banks can hardly sustain an entire State that controls such a vast area. Therefore, a significant amount of resources must be coming from outside Syria and Iraq.

The Islamic State group's flag over a bridge in Mosul
The Islamic State group’s flag over a bridge in Mosul

Individual donors from the Persian Gulf have been funneling money into IS, who nowadays represent the most effective force in fighting Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. The Director of the Center for Research into the Arabic World at the University of Mainz, Günter Meyer, stated “the most important source of ISIS financing to date has been support coming out of the Gulf states, primarily Saudi Arabia but also Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates”. The Gulf States’ motivation to fight against the regime of al-Assad has led them to financially and morally support IS.

The United States has gone so far as to call Qatar a “permissive environment for financing terrorist groups”. Qatar’s security strategy has basically been to support diverse regional and international groups in order to strengthen its political position in the region. This country has supported Islamist organizations such as Hamas, the Taliban, and most recently ISIS, and has consistently allowed private fundraising for Islamist groups abroad.

However, in order to be able to paint a comprehensive picture of IS’ funds, it is important to look beyond Arab borders. Although personally I am not a faithful supporter of conspiracy theories, I do believe it is crucial to consider the interests countries like the U.S. have in the region, and the role they might be playing in IS’ financial prosperity. Internal players such as (neo) conservatives, weapon manufacturers, and oil companies are all looking for profit, and this is a fact that cannot be ignored when analyzing any issue in the Middle East.

At large, the interest of Western countries (namely the U.S.) in the Middle East has always been about oil, pipelines and control of the resource. The current state of insecurity and chaos in the Middle East is a direct consequence of American conservative aspirations to dominate oil resources and defend an ever expansionist Israel. Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the US has deliberately armed and funded Sunni extremist groups, linked to al-Qaeda, in Iraq in order to push back against Shiite militias.

Militant Islamist fighters waving flags, travel in vehicles as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province June 30, 2014.  REUTERS/Stringer
Militant Islamist fighters waving flags, travel in vehicles as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria’s northern Raqqa province June 30, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer

Presently, countries like Turkey and the US want to get rid of a Syrian regime that is not aligned with these nations’ interests. But why is the loyalty of Syrians important to them? The answer, again, is oil. In 2011, a $10 billion construction deal was signed between Iran, Iraq and Syria for a natural gas pipeline to be built by 2016. This pipeline, known as Pipelineistan, would start in Iran, cross Iraq and Syria, and possibly extend to Lebanon. Their key export target market? Europe. With Syria immersed in a civil war, no global investor would actually gamble their own money in such a project, however, in a post-al Assad scenario, all options are open and possible. Most of the oil will come from Iraq, but the final destinations could be Turkey or Lebanon exporting directly to Europe. In a nutshell, it is the best interest of Turkey and Western countries to topple the Syrian regime, through whatever means possible, in order to assure the flow of petrol through Syria.

More specifically, in a confession made by Yousaf al Salafi, commander of IS in Pakistan, published in The Express Tribune earlier this year, he stated that he had been receiving funds through the US. When Al Salafi was arrested he revealed that “he was getting funding – routed through America – to run the organization in Pakistan and recruit young people to fight in Syria”. Within these operations, he also admitted that he was getting around $600 per recruit sent to Syria.

IS is also a leader in technology, particularly social media, not only to reach sympathizers but also to attract donors. Israeli cyber intelligence has acknowledged that IS is using the digital currency bitcoin for fundraising from US territories. Jimmy Gurule, former Under Secretary of the Treasury Department, stated that “Bitcoin is currently not regulated…potentially the terrorists could have found a chink in the armor, or could have found a gap in our regulatory system that they may be exploiting”. In addition, it has been recently discovered that many of those digital donors live in the United States. As such, the US indeed claims to be at war with IS, however it appears to be incapable of stopping large amounts of money flowing from within its own borders into the hands of the terrorist organization.

Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from forces loyal to Islamic State
Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from forces loyal to Islamic State. REUTERS

Moreover, the Syrian regime itself it believed to be involved in funding IS. As stated by the activist group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently[3] in their latest report earlier this year, “one of ISIS’s most important financial resources is selling electricity and gas to Assad regime through ISIS controlled dams…Secret deals are being wrapped up between ISIS and Assad regime, where the regime conducts reform workshops in regions in exchange with ISIS providing them with electricity. Profits are divided in half between them”.

If we ever hope to constrict any sort of terrorist funding, a traditional campaign against terrorist financing will not be enough. It is important to make the society aware of the danger it represents to carry on supporting direct and indirect measures of funding, and push our governments to cease all trade, operations, commerce or donations of any kind with the countries where these groups are based. It is only through a severe economic chocking strategy that these radical groups will likely disappear. For instance, earlier this year Jacqui Lambie, an Australian senator, openly questioned her government regarding what she believes is halal money” funding IS. That is, she believes Australian certifiers are suspected of misusing money paid for halal certification to fund IS’ activities; hence, she is pushing for new legislation in order to control the cash flow IS is receiving to fund their caliphate. At the same time, the local governments must engage in a serious effort to seize the natural resources IS has taken a hold of, in order to control the economy it now runs.

Without addressing all dimensions of this financing, groups like IS will continue to exist and grow in a system that has consistently permitted them to run economies and consolidate their power. If we as civil society do not actively push our governments to take action, countries like the US will continue enabling the growth of ISIS, utilize it as impetus to inject more money and weapons that will inevitably end up in IS’ hands, and use this as an excuse to further intervene in the region.

Edited by Kari Megeed

———————————————————————————————————-

[1] Charles Lister. “Profiling the Islamic State”. Brookings Doha Center. 13 (Nov. 2014). p. 5.

[2] C. Lister. op. cit. p. 22.

[3] Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently is an activist group (citizen journalism) which secretly documents the acts of violence and oppression ISIS has brought to the Syrian city of Raqqa.

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  • Scott Osterloh

    One more thing I would like to say. I as an American am sorry to see what your region has been going through. I can tell you this not all Americans are buying the lies Washington puts out. We the libertarians in the USA are a sleeping giant our numbers grow everyday.

    • Fabian Schurti

      same in europe, people see the truth more and more about the crime governments in the world, the lying media and that much countries enjoy to keep the war running.

      that christs, no christs should fight against muslim and back.

      so that the zionists are happy, this bastards.
      we should stand together against them.

  • Scott Osterloh

    Neo conservatives ??? Obama is behind a lot of the funding. Let’s remember all of his pro Islam statements. Why doesn’t the press do their job and report the whole truth, half truths serve no ones interest accept the ones who have something to hide.

  • vicharpost

    Great Article.

    ISIS is a terror enterprise. It is an enterprise of Bandits. It has no concern with ISLAM for long distance. World over Islamic scholars are condemning ISIS as a pseudo Islamic organisation which has single handedly brought infamy to Islam and blemished the name of parvrdigar (who sustains all) Allah.

    All so called “Angel Investors” want a piece of dirty business which has high stakes where margins are exceedingly high such as selling stolen Oil, money from ransom, selling women etc. all done legitimately in the name of the Caliphate!

    It is capturing the imagination of young people world over because it offers thrill of being a terrorist and also the sleaze involved.

    Objective of ISIS is to get more and more control of Middle east Oil.

    Perhaps in the world history if any one organisation is responsible for massacre of maximum Muslims it must be ISIS. They are massacring people so that there are refugees in guise of which their terrorist can infiltrate Nations. They are using our sense of Human Sympathy as a Trojan Horse to work against us.

    Quoting SUfi quotes for ISIS type of people. ” Remember that Alexandar had tremendous Courage but he left the world empty handed, Today those who pride on their youth will receive betrayal tommorrow, Their have to date been such great names walking the earth but the earth has devoured all such young men. All you will get in the end is 2 meters of zamin. In his name you are murdering people but you have forgotten him in your imaginary victory. Time has time and again shown the word the same scenario, It has struck to the dust all types of Rustoms.”

    This band of terrorists will only make a small sentence the chapter on Midle East.

    • Scott Osterloh

      What Islamic scholars are condemning ISIS?? That’s one of the main problems at least here in America no Muslims are speaking out against ISIS. Suadis are exporting and funding the wahabist and they haven’t taken in any “refugees”. This is all to destabilize not only the mideast but Europe and America. It’s invasion by proxy. Corruption starts in the hearts of men and if that man finds some ugly beliefs that feed it you get ISIS or ISIS like idiot murders. Wake Up World
      http://www.infowars.com

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  • Tfrank

    Well at least she is reporting the other side of the story, As opposed to the mainstream press here in the US, That just promotes fear and lies about everything . Trying to convince us to think a certain way, so …
    FACT.. The US govt or special factions of our government are in fact funding ISIS. As stated by our president Obama. George Bush called them freedom fighters back in the day. Our military left 40 Billion worth of military equipment for their use.

    Personally we should cut the funding to the military by that much since it seems they don’t need all that equipment . And as for this group ISIS the only reason they are still in existence is so the US can topple the heads of the chosen government’s in that region And to promote fear here in the US,So they can take our rights away. ,As far as Asad goes ,We want him out Stated many times by the Obama administration , And also to destabilize the middle east which is exactly what has been done. This was all laid out during the bush administration. Look up “The new american century” put forth by Dick Cheney . you might also want to read “agenda 21” Signed into law by Obama last year. If you can think back 20 years ago none of this was an issue. yes there were wars , But fear here in the us ? Hell no. But now it’s rampant . And our country is being destroyed from the inside And these morons who think that The people will just allow them to destroy this nation. I think not ,People are waking up.

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  • GoianiaHeights

    i enjoy reading your perspective and insights from within the region. however, the general rule in journalism is if you mix inaccuracies with truths, your standing falls apart. if you have a theory, then say that it is only a theory, and give us your evidences. mixing truth and lies cuts away at your authority. if you have nothing to be afraid of, then seek the truth.

    • JasonEnzoD

      Yes. Try telling that to the news channels.

  • GoianiaHeights

    oy vey

    “(neo) conservatives, weapon manufacturers, and oil companies” – ok tell us more…

    “expansionist Israel” – pray tell us more…

    • ulizos

      You jews are the bloody worst.

      • Scott Osterloh

        The Jews aren’t out beheading people are they. It’s hard to see but the enemy is in your own house.

  • vinaymunda

    There is a very complicated conflict going on in Syria. ISIS, Al-Qayeda, US, Russia, Iran & Syrian regime…. Can any one please explain whoz fighting against whom?

    • JasonEnzoD

      There’s a lot of factors thrown into this equation, but in my opinion the key to understanding all this is the Arab Spring concept, and Israel and its enemies in the middle-east. We then have he Persian Gulf States thrown to consider, and Russia. What does all this mean?

      Firstly, the Arab Spring. What is it, where did it originate and what does it mean? Well, it means revolution in repressed middle-eastern regimes. The term originated in the west. And it means that people believe they have the power to overthrow the non-democratic regimes and replace them with more democratic ones.

      Secondly, Israel. Israel are strongly supported by the USA, and have strong connections with the America ruling and financial elite. However, Syria and Iran are sworn enemies of Israel. Iran is an Islamic state, and officially endorses the creation of a Palestinian state, regarding Palestine as under occupation by the Zionist regime. Iran and USA have been enemies since 1980. So from the Israeli-USA point of view, Iran and Syria are an undesirable presence in the middle-east.

      Thirdly, let’s bring in wealthy Saudi Arabia and the wealthy gulf states. This is where it gets complicated. The thing you have to understand about Saudi Arabia is that it is not a united country. There is a ruling royal family, originally put there by the USA. This family supports the USA and appears to follow the official religion of Sunni Muslim. They see Israel more as a western nation and don’t bother about it.The Monarchies of Saudi Arabia, and other Persian Gulf States, don’t like the Arab Spring concept, because it threatens their monarchy-based political system. However, there are other powerful, wealthy families in Saudi Arabia who don’t like the monarchy and all that it represents, and who consider themselves truer Muslims. The final thing to consider with the Persina Gulf is that being Sunni Muslims, they are the traditional enemies of Shi’ite Muslims, which are what the Iranian and Syrian Governments support.

      Finally, the last thing to consider is that Russia has a base in Syria, and it is therefore in Russia’s interest to protect the current Syrian regime.

      In Syria and Iraq, there are currently large regions of territory occupied by ISIS, who are an Islamic militant group. ISIS are partially funded from the territory they control (taxes, oil sold on the black market etc) but also funded by wealthy extremist donors from the Persian Gulf States, who can use ISIS to spread Sunni Islam by defeating their old Shi’ite enemies.

      The USA claim they are supporting the Arab Spring by training rebel groups in Syria to protect themselves from ISIS. Iran is also getting sucked into this conflict in Syria, due to the threat from ISIS. Iran being a Shi’ite Muslim state, don’t want to see Shi’ite’s get oppressed by extremists Sunnis.

      So, what we have is a mess. USA is on the ground in Syria training rebels to fight ISIS, but those rebels are against Assad and also fighting him. However Assad is against ISIS. Iran is there and against ISIS too, but Iran is supportive of Assad, unlike the USA. Iran don’t like the USA. Iran don’t like Israel. Saudi Arabia are supporting both USA and ISIS. Israel support whatever the USA want. Russia is there moving in lots of military hardware to support Assad (and also score some points against the USA).

      Get it now?

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  • rita amer

    Dear Kari, thank you for an enlightening article. Wish mainstream media had the courage to follow the money train. I have stopped listening to them or reading them. Maybe AVAAZ would be the right platform to give the demand to dry up funds for terrorists a more global audience. HAve you heard of them? I like their huge campaigns.
    Rita Amer – Dubai

  • As

    Nice article, regarding the the taxes applied by ISIS, all countries applies taxes to given examples(electricity,water, imported goods). I wish to know where is the Siryan rebel army supported by US( made public)?, seems interesting how Rebel army has disapeared while ISIS was emerging, seems quite extrange how once are dissapearing while a black flag is rising, with governments complicity.

  • Yusuf Amr

    Sound article.

Feature
@Fer_Uro

Fernanda Uro Aboites is a Middle East Studies Masters student at the American University in Cairo. She was born and raised in Mexico and has worked at the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs in development cooperation issues. She is interested in political and social issues in the Middle East.

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