The Islamic State group has made more than $500 million in oil sales on the black market and controls as much as $1 billion in cash from banks it robbed during its initial march across Syria and Iraq last summer, the Treasury Department estimates.
That may seem like a lot. But it only goes so far for the extremist group, particularly amid international military and economic efforts to contain it while it attempts to hold its so-called caliphate and govern a region of 5 million people or more. Analysts believe the group’s leaders need as much as $1 billion per month to keep generators filled, lights on and armored vehicles running.
So where are its resources coming from? That was the key subject of an unprecedented U.N. National Security meeting of 15 finance ministers on Thursday, headed by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. The group adopted a plan it says will target the Islamic State group’s oil production and sales, as well as seize up other sources of income the group collects from looting and selling antiquities and through an increasing emphasis on extortion and ransom rackets against the people within the territory it controls.
The new international law “will require countries to do more than they have been doing,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power noted , adding the Islamic State group’s source of financing is “a problem we should be able to solve.”
But those with experience studying terrorists’ balance books say the group’s financial system is clearly much more advanced than Western governments previously appraised. It occupies a triangle between northwestern Iraq, northeastern Syria and southeastern Turkey where generations of underworld financiers have mastered the art of selling on the black market, smuggling goods across borders and turning illicit money into the kind of benign currency foreign banks accept. These regional experts working with Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his lieutenants don’t even need to buy into the group’s hard-line ideology, trading their expertise for the right to continue their illicit practices under the extremists’ taxation.
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