The militant group ISIS is still making $1 million per day as it continues to dominate headlines and capturing the world’s attention, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.
ISIS is considered by many experts to be the world’s richest terrorist organization as it pulls in $1 million per day, a distinction it likely achieved through atypical funding means. Boko Haram made its money through black market dealings. Charities and wealthy benefactors gave al Qaeda much of its monetary power.
Money laundering has played a prolific role in the way that terrorist organizations raise capital. Most terrorist organizations have money coming in from places far outside its reach. But ISIS is different — it does most of its funding within its own territories.
Matthew Levitt, the director of the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told CNN that ISIS’ success is built on a long history of geographic control.
The Islamic State called ISIS is what used to be called the Islamic State of Iraq, and al Qaeda in Iraq, the Tawhid Network, the Zarqawi Network; it’s all the same. And they were always primarily financed through domestic criminal activity within the borders of Iraq.
By largely cutting out outside donors, the group has built in a safeguard against intervention. The evolving group has placed itself outside of the clutches of U.S. intervention that once successfully stemmed cash flow to terrorist groups. Effectively, the group has set up its own powerful war economy within ISIS-controlled areas that is financing its goal of reconstructing a 7th century caliphate.
ISIS began profiting from the oil-rich areas of northern Syria when it overthrew wells and refineries, taking the cheap, crude oil and selling it back to the Syrian government. They gained further control as they expanded into Iraq, taking advantage of the profitable northern areas of the country and smuggling crude through southern Turkey, where at $7.50 a gallon in parts of the country, cheap oil is a commodity.
U.S. airstrikes have targeted ISIS-controlled oil refineries in order to cut off funding for the group, but oil is only a part of the equation.
As ISIS earns $1 million per day, it continues to sets its sights on other cities. The stakes far surpass the petty crimes that the ISIS used to fund itself in the beginning. The militia group is more serious this time with bigger rewards.