Washington, Sep 14: Islamic State militants, who once relied on wealthy Persian Gulf donors for money, have become a self-sustaining financial juggernaut, earning more than USD 3 million a day from oil smuggling, human trafficking, theft and extortion, according to US intelligence officials and private experts. The extremist group’s resources exceed that “of any other terrorist group in history,” said a US intelligence official who, like others interviewed, spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss classified assessments. Such riches are one reason that American officials are so concerned about the group even while acknowledging they have no evidence it is plotting attacks against the United States.
The Islamic State group has taken over large sections of Syria and Iraq, and controls as many as 11 oil fields in both countries, analysts say. It is selling oil and other goods through generations-old smuggling networks under the noses of some of the same governments it is fighting: Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq, Turkey and Jordan. While US intelligence does not assess that those governments are complicit in the smuggling, the Obama administration is pressing them do to more to crack down. The illicit oil is generally transported on tanker trucks, analysts said.
“There’s a lot of money to be made,” said Denise Natali, who worked in Kurdistan as an American aid official and is now a senior research fellow at National Defense University. “The Kurds say they have made an attempt to close it down, but you pay off a border guard you pay off somebody else and you get stuff through.” The price the Islamic State group fetches for its smuggled oil is discounted USD 25 to USD 60 for a barrel of oil that normally sells for more than USD 100 but its total profits from oil are exceeding USD 3 million a day, said Luay al-Khatteeb, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Doha Center in Qatar.
The group also has earned hundreds of millions of dollars from smuggling antiquities out of Iraq to be sold in Turkey, al-Khatteeb said, and millions more from human trafficking by selling women and children as sex slaves. Other revenue comes from extortion payments, ransom from kidnapped hostages, and outright theft of all manner of materials from the towns the Islamic State group has seized, analysts say. “It’s cash-raising activities resemble those of a mafia-like organization,” a second US intelligence official said, reflecting the assessment of his agency. “They are well-organized, systematic and enforced through intimidation and violence.”