In this Monday, June 16, 2014 file photo, demonstrators chant pro-Islamic State group slogans as they wave the group's flags in front of the provincial government headquarters in Mosul.

In this Monday, June 16, 2014 file photo, demonstrators chant pro-Islamic State group slogans as they wave the group's flags in front of the provincial government headquarters in Mosul. AP Photo, File

Three Ways ISIS Gets Its Money

“It seems to me … that terrorist groups will do anything for money.”

Kid­nap­pings, an­tiquit­ies traf­fick­ing, and private dona­tions.

Those are three—though cer­tainly not the only three—of the ways that the Is­lam­ic State, or “IS­IS,” the ter­ror­ist or­gan­iz­a­tion re­spons­ible for the at­tacks in Par­is, funds its vi­ol­ent op­er­a­tion.

While much of its fund­ing comes from oil sales, the group has also re­sor­ted to cap­tur­ing in­di­vidu­als in an at­tempt to ex­tract pay­ment for their safe re­turn. The group has kid­napped Amer­ic­ans and oth­ers, and in cases when pay­ment was not made, grue­somely murdered them and re­leased the videos on the In­ter­net.

IS­IS has kid­napped “multi-hun­dreds, if not thou­sands of vic­tims,” John Cas­sara, a former spe­cial agent for the U.S. Treas­ury De­part­ment, told law­makers on a House For­eign Af­fairs pan­el Tues­day. The group has used kid­nap­pings to raise around $45 mil­lion in 2014, he noted, cit­ing a Fin­an­cial Ac­tion Task Force re­port.

“In fact, be­cause kid­nap­ping and as­so­ci­ated crime, such as ex­tor­tion, has been so suc­cess­ful, it ap­pears the av­er­age ransom pay­ment is in­creas­ing,” he ad­ded, de­scrib­ing a “vi­cious cycle” in which pay­ing ransoms leads to more kid­nap­pings, with those kid­nap­pings in turn lead­ing to more ransoms.

“IS­IS ac­tu­ally makes more money off of oil sales,” test­i­fied Dr. Dav­id An­drew Wein­berg, a seni­or fel­low at the Found­a­tion for De­fense of Demo­cra­cies, “but ransoms have helped it and al-Qaeda con­quer that ter­rit­ory in the first place.”

The dis­cus­sion of host­ages, however, led law­makers in­to a wrench­ing top­ic: wheth­er it is wise for the United States to pay ransoms for kid­napped cit­izens.

Among the wit­nesses testi­fy­ing be­fore the sub­com­mit­tee was Di­ane Fo­ley, moth­er of James Fo­ley—an Amer­ic­an journ­al­ist be­headed by the Is­lam­ic State in 2014—and the founder of the James W. Fo­ley Leg­acy Found­a­tion. “Our son James was tor­tured and starved by IS­IS for nearly two years, just for be­ing an Amer­ic­an,” Fo­ley test­i­fied. “Our fam­ily’s or­deal was made worse by our in­co­her­ent and of­ten in­ef­fect­ive host­age policy.”

The tra­di­tion­al ar­gu­ment against pay­ing for host­ages’ safety is that it will en­cour­age fur­ther kid­nap­pings down the line, but Di­ane Fo­ley cast doubts on that line of thought. “I am told our strict ad­her­ence to this policy saves lives by de­creas­ing the rate of cap­ture of Amer­ic­ans, but no one has been able to show me the re­search be­hind our host­age policy,” Fo­ley test­i­fied.

Fo­ley sug­ges­ted that the gov­ern­ment com­mu­nic­ate with captors go­ing for­ward: “What if we had been shrewd enough to en­gage with Jim’s Syr­i­an captors in the fall of 2013, to learn all we could about them, in­stead of ig­nor­ing them?”

Fo­ley’s pres­ence did not de­ter one law­maker from speak­ing out against ransoms.

“With Mrs. Fo­ley here, I feel bad say­ing it—but I don’t think that we should be al­low­ing pay­ing money and ransoms to ter­ror­ist or­gan­iz­a­tions,” said Rep. Brad Sher­man, a Demo­crat from Cali­for­nia. “From an emo­tion­al stand­point, it may get you the par­tic­u­lar loved one back, but it’s just awhile be­fore they kill some oth­er Amer­ic­ans or seize some oth­er Amer­ic­an host­ages.”

Selling His­tory to Fund­ing Vi­ol­ence

The group also works to sell ar­ti­facts and oth­er cul­tur­al items on the black mar­ket. The ter­rit­ory cur­rently con­trolled by IS­IS con­tains ar­ti­facts from an­cient Meso­pot­amia, one of hu­man­kind’s earli­est large-scale or­gan­ized so­ci­et­ies.

Now, ex­perts fear that past is dis­ap­pear­ing. Dr. Mi­chael D. Danti of the Amer­ic­an Schools of Ori­ent­al Re­search said the Syr­i­an con­flict has brought about “the worst cul­tur­al-her­it­age crisis since World War II.”

“Over the last 16 months, IS­IS has de­veloped a highly or­gan­ized ap­proach to loot­ing, traf­fick­ing, and selling an­tiquit­ies and oth­er cul­tur­al prop­erty for fund­ing,” said Dr. Danti. “To IS­IS, an­tiquit­ies are nat­ur­al re­source to be mined from the ground or pilfered from cul­tur­al re­pos­it­or­ies.”

The ac­tu­al dol­lar value of the an­tiquit­ies con­trolled by IS­IS is un­known, Dr. Danti said, but the group finds the rev­en­ue source “cru­cial” to their op­er­a­tions. He pushed for the United States to pri­or­it­ize “re­du­cing glob­al mar­ket space for con­flict an­tiquit­ies.”

Frayed Loy­al­ties

An­oth­er source of rev­en­ue for ter­ror­ist or­gan­iz­a­tions are private dona­tions from in­di­vidu­als in oth­er coun­tries. Dr. Wein­berg lis­ted four U.S. al­lies that “pur­sue prob­lem­at­ic or even ad­versari­al po­s­i­tions” over private dona­tions to ter­ror­ist or­gan­iz­a­tions: Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Ar­a­bia, and Tur­key.

“Des­pite prom­ises to do so, they have failed to ef­fect­ively ob­struct the flow of such funds and to try pun­ish­ing its prac­ti­tion­ers,” he ar­gued, say­ing his writ­ten testi­mony—avail­able on the sub­com­mit­tee’s web­site—in­cludes “dozens of ex­amples of such neg­li­gence.”

Dr. Wein­berg went on to ar­gue that “the U.S. should de­vel­op a broad range of op­tions for when our al­lies re­fuse to do the right thing versus ter­ror fin­an­ci­ers.”  

At the end of the wit­nesses’ testi­mon­ies, Sub­com­mit­tee Chair­man Ted Poe com­men­ted, “It seems to me—and I may not have all of their sources of rev­en­ue—but we’ve heard that ter­ror­ist groups will do any­thing for money.”