Security

US, Iraq disrupt massive ISIS funding network

By Khalid al-Taie

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Counter ISIS Finance Group (CIFG) members states and observers meet to discuss ways to dismantle ISIS's sources of funding and financing, in Amman on February 11th, 2018. [Photo from the Global Coalition Twitter page]

By working closely together and sharing information, the US and Iraq have been systematically dismantling a massive global "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) financial network.

Fresh efforts to take down al-Rawi financial network, a key ISIS financial facilitation group based in Iraq, include the US Treasury's April 15th designation of six individuals and one entity linked to the network.

In a statement announcing the new designations, the Treasury described the designees as "key nodes" of ISIS's financial network.

The six individuals, who reside in Iraq, Turkey and Belgium, have been named as Mushtaq Talib Zughayr al-Rawi, Omar Talib Zughayr al-Rawi, Walid Talib Zughayr al-Rawi, Muhannad Mushtaq Talib Zughayr al-Rawi, Abdul Rahman Ali Hussain al-Ahmad al-Rawi and Mohammed Abdul Qader Mutni Assaf al-Rawi.

ISIS had selected two of them, Omar and Abdul Rahman Ali, to manage its so-called "Euphrates Province" after the group's former "treasury minister" was killed in a coalition airstrike in Syria in 2017.

These men and Mushtaq, another one of the individuals designated on April 15th, had been business partners with the slain financier.

The "treasury minister", Fawaz Muhammad Jubayr al-Rawi, was a Syrian financial facilitator who moved millions of dollars for ISIS networks until he was killed in 2017 by a coalition airstrike in the Syrian town of Albu Kamal.

He had previously been designated by the US Treasury.

Also designated on April 15th is an Iraq, Turkey and Syria-based financial services company, Al-Ard al-Jadidah, that actively supplied ISIS fighters and their families with money by facilitating money transfers between its branches.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been transferred between the company's branches to the group’s leaders in Iraq, according to the Treasury.

Also designated on April 15th was Halima Adnan Ali, a female financier arrested by Kenyan authorities in July who funded ISIS elements by facilitating money transfers across the Middle East, Europe, the Americas and East Africa.

Efforts to target the network

"Some members of al-Rawi network were caught in special operations carried out by the Falcons intelligence cell, the Iraqi intelligence service and security forces, with help from the US," said intelligence expert Fadel Abu Ragheef.

In October, the authorities raided al-Rawi network's headquarters in Erbil and Baghdad and arrested 10 financiers linked to the group, he told Diyaruna, though other members remained at large in Syria, Turkey and Europe.

The funding network is "complex and large" and effectively serves as ISIS’s treasury ministry, he said.

"It has currency exchange and financial services offices in Iraq and many other countries, in addition to general trade and holding companies, enterprises involved in various activities and investment companies," he said.

These include "gold shops and auto dealerships", he added.

"The proceeds from money laundering operations are transferred and passed around through banking intermediaries around the world and [ultimately] delivered to ISIS," Abu Ragheef said.

"The Iraqi government, through the Central Bank of Iraq (CBI), froze all the deposits and economic assets of network members who are active in the country and seized their property and movable and immovable assets," he said.

"A ban also was imposed on all financial, commercial and banking transactions with companies and offices connected to the network," he said, in accordance with national and international laws to combat terror financing and money laundering.

Drying up sources of revenue

Uncovering and dismantling the ISIS financial network is an essential step towards preventing terrorism, al-Mustansiriya University political science professor Essam al-Faily told Diyaruna.

Preventing acts of terrorism by drying up sources of revenue is the objective of the US-led Counter-ISIS Finance Group (CIFG), which comprises representatives of 54 countries.

Meeting in the Bahraini capital of Manama on April 14th, the CIFG discussed closer international co-operation to stem the flow of funds to terrorist groups.

"The US is working tirelessly and strategically to dry up the sources of support for terrorism," al-Faily said.

"It is working on multiple levels to track [the movement] of funds through banks and financial institutions and monitor suspect activities disguised as business or economic activities or charitable donations," he added.

Al-Faily pointed to the "close security and intelligence co-operation" between the Iraqi and US governments and other coalition countries with regard to the exchange of information and identification of terrorism financiers.

"ISIS reaped millions of dollars when it swept through Iraq and Syria by seizing bank vaults, oil wells and tax money," he said. "Those resources were depleted by successive attacks by the international coalition and Iraqi forces."

"Today we must intensify the co-ordination among all countries to take down all global financiers of terrorism, because their danger does not threaten some countries to the exclusion of others, and it is still present," he said.

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