Issued by CEMO Center - Paris
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Satanic arms keep ISIS alive with a complex network of funds

Wednesday 03/July/2019 - 11:59 AM
The Reference
Shaima Hafezy

Terrorist attacks have reappeared in a number of countries, and each time the finger of accusation strongly indicates ISIS, despite the loss of territory it controlled in Syria and Iraq. 

The terrorist organization claimed responsibility for two suicide bombings on Thursday morning in the Tunisian capital, killing a security man and wounding others. The government announced that the suicide bombers blew themselves up in two separate attacks targeting police.

Satanic arms keep

ISIS and its financial empire

Despite ISIS losing control of the last strip of its territory to US-backed forces, the organization’s economic empire remains difficult to disperse. 

According to intelligence and media reports, ISIS still has enormous financial strength and has access to hundreds of millions of dollars. 

A recent report published in the US magazine The Atlantic said that the organization’s continued wealth poses real risks, where it threatens to help maintain the loyalty of a core committed to violence through terrorist attacks for years to come. 

According to the report, the financial strength of the organization provides a window into the broader challenge facing the United States and other governments. 

In its effort to pressure the group financially, Washington had to rely on a strategy fundamentally different from the one it used in its military campaign. The main weapons at its disposal, such as airstrikes and artillery bombs, would not work well in this challenge, although hidden tools can be used, such as punishing companies associated with ISIS and denying them access to the international financial system, as well as quietly cooperating with governments around the world. However, the successes would be less clear, the campaign against the group would take years, and there is no guarantee of victory.

The loss of its territories has made it difficult for ISIS to rely on two main sources of revenue: exploiting oil fields in Iraq and Syria and imposing taxes on citizens living under its rule. ISIS collected about $1 million a day from these sources, turning it into world's richest terrorist organization.

Satanic arms keep

Money laundering for terrorist purposes

Although ISIS lost these resources, it also reduced its expenses in trying to build its alleged caliphate, allowing it to focus only on terrorist activity. 

A US Treasury official told The Atlantic magazine that the group is increasingly operating like its predecessor in Iraq and no longer needs the same resources it needed when it was in control of territory. Oil is still generating revenue even though the organization no longer controls individual fields, as it relies on blackmailing oil supply lines across the region. 

Howard Shatz, chief economist at RAND and co-author of several studies on ISIS finance, said the organization was still sitting on the huge legacy it had built during its peak.

"What we know is that they have raised large sums of money and other assets," Shatz said, adding, "We do not know where everything went."

Satanic arms keep

Turkish role in financing

Some of these funds appear to have been invested in legitimate business ventures. A series of raids on companies linked to the organization last October in the Iraqi city of Erbil revealed a paper trail that the group had invested in everything from real estate to car dealers. 

These companies are often run by intermediaries who partner with the group not because of ideological sympathy but for profit, and then revenue is diverted to leaders when asked to do so. 

According to security officials, Turkey was the biggest recipient of the organization’s financial assets, whether it was held in cash by individuals in Turkey or invested partially in gold, especially since ISIS used to make millions of dollars by selling oil smuggled to Turkish buyers. 

The payoff also provided ample opportunities to revive the tactics that had funded the organization from 2008 to 2012 when al-Qaeda in Iraq was operating underground like a mafia. The group had recorded monthly revenues of around $ 1 million in Nineveh province, where Mosul is the capital, in late 2008 and early 2009. 

According to reports, the organization managed to keep accurate records of about 7 million to 8 million people living under its rule at the height of its power. If it kept control of those records, it could use them to blackmail Iraqis and Syrians. 

"If you live in ISIS territory, they know your place of residence, they know how much money you earn and they know what your business is. It would be a pity to see something happen to him," officials told the magazine. 

In general, the military victory over ISIS was a cause for celebration, but it also allows the organization to back down from an economic strategy that has served it well for years. Do not expect it to stop working anytime soon.