Interviews with Iraqi, Kurdish, European, Syrian and American government officials, analysts and intelligence agents sketch a portrait of ISIS’s robust, sprawling, and efficient financial operation.The terrorist group relies on a relatively complex system to manage its far-reaching networks. A micro-industry for fuel refinament has grown up around the desert town of Al Mansura east of Al Raqqah, the capital of ISIS.Small stills burn oil that is trucked in by the barrel load from the oil fields of Al Hasakah.
ISIS has taken oil fields from Syrian rebels and the government in recent months.ISIS’s use of middlemen across the Middle East to smuggle cash in and out of its territory, in addition to employing decades-old smugglers’ routes, makes the group especially hard to track.ISIS’s financial needs go beyond underwriting terror.“It’s a huge financial package to support 8 million people—which is now the size of the population living in territories under ISIS control,” says Luay al-Khatteeb, visiting fellow of the Doha Brookings Center and director of the Iraq Energy Institute in Baghdad.
Its currencies of choice—cash, crude oil and contraband—allow it to operate outside of legitimate banking channels.
Turkey’s southern corridor, Iraq’s northwestern corridor and Syria’s northeastern corridor are key weak spots, well away from the prying eyes of outside investigators.