The US government is intensifying efforts to undermine the finances of ISIL, vowing to crack down on the islamic militant group’s black market oil business.
To disrupt the market in oil derived from ISIL-controlled fields, the US will target for financial sanctions anyone who trades with the militants, said David Cohen, US Treasury under-secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.
“The middlemen, traders, refiners, transport companies, and anyone else that handles ISIL’s oil should know that we are hard at work identifying them, and that we have tools at hand to stop them”, Cohen said.
“We not only can cut them off from the U.S. financial system and freeze their assets, but we can also make it very difficult for them to find a bank anywhere that will touch their money or process their transactions”, he added.
Speaking at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Cohen said ISIL is earning about $1 million (790,000 euros) a day just from black market oil sales. Some of this oil is sold to the group’s enemies, including the Syrian government it has vowed to topple and to Iraqi Kurds.
ISIL also has taken in at least $20 million (15.8 million euros) in ransom payments this year from kidnappings and raises money – up to several million dollars per month – through a sophisticated extortion racket, Cohen said.
In Iraq and Syria, ISIL extracts payments from those who pass through, conduct business in, or simply seek to live in the territory where it operates.
“Make no mistake: This is not taxation in return for services or even for real protection. It is theft, pure and simple. The money ISIL pilfers is being exchanged not for a guarantee of safety but for the temporary absence of harm”, Cohen said.
Cohen says that except for state-sponsored terrorist groups, the ISIL group is probably the best-funded terrorist organization the Treasury Department has ever confronted.
The group wants to create a caliphate, or Islamic empire, in the Middle East. Led by Iraqi militant Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State group initially tried to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad, but other groups, including Al Qaeda central command, turned against ISIL because of its brutality.
ISIL has captured territory across Syria and northern Iraq. Unlike the core Al Qaeda terrorist network, ISIL gets only a relatively small share of funding from deep-pocket donors and therefore does not depend primarily on moving money across international borders.
Instead, ISIL obtains the vast majority of its revenues through local criminal and terrorist activities, Cohen said.
“They rob banks. They lay waste to thousands of years of civilization in Iraq and Syria by looting and selling antiquities,” he said. “They steal livestock and crops from farmers. And despicably, they sell abducted girls and women as sex slaves.”
The US government estimates that the fight against ISIL requires a broad-based approach. “This is a whole-of-government effort”, said Cohen. “We are working closely with our counterparts in the State Department, the Department of Defense, law enforcement, and the intelligence community. And we are also linked up with international counterparts.”