Date
17 August 2017
ISIS militants display their flag in northern Iraq. The jihadist group has many sources of funding, including drugs, oil production and wealthy donors in the Gulf states. Photo: AFP
ISIS militants display their flag in northern Iraq. The jihadist group has many sources of funding, including drugs, oil production and wealthy donors in the Gulf states. Photo: AFP

How the world’s scariest terrorists also became the richest

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, more popularly known as ISIS, is not only one of the world’s scariest terrorist groups but also one of the richest, Yahoo Finance reports, citing Michael Knights, a fellow at the Washington Institute, a think tank focusing on US foreign policy in the Middle East.

Knights, who has been studying Iraq since the 1990s, disagrees with some estimates that ISIS holds about US$2 billion in cash, saying the figure is a bit too high, but he believes the jihadist group could be raking in between US$2 million and US$4 million daily.

“ISIS has always been a very wealthy terrorist movement because it’s been running very large scale Mafiosi protection rackets all across Iraq for around five years now,” says Knights.

He also thinks some accounts of the group’s sources of income are exaggerated. “Some of the reports of them robbing banks in Mosul have been disproved, for instance,” he says.

Funding has been traced to drugs as well as wealthy donors in the Gulf States allied with the United States.

“Gulf-based donors are a relatively small part of ISIS’s funding,” Knights says. “It’s also a part that the US and its allies are quite good at dealing with by now – what they call ‘threat finance’. The harder part to deal with is the money that ISIS actually raises on the ground.”

ISIS, for example, is engaged in oil production and exports. The group control 30,000 to 40,000 barrels of production per day. “They will take Iraqi-produced oil, take it to Syria, refine it and then export it via truck out of Turkey or even through Iran,” says Knights.

Their oil production notwithstanding, ISIS is not expected to affect global oil prices — at least for now. Much of the oil coming from Iraq are produced in the southern region controlled by Shiites. 

ISIS, a Sunni group, controls the norwestern region, although it has been advancing into the semi-autonomous Kurdish region, which is rich in oil and hosts production facilities of several international oil companies such as Exxon and Chevron, says the report.

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