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Disrupt ISIS Financial Capabilities

Despite its loss of territory and military defeat, the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS) is still deadly. From January 2018 to October 2018, ISIS carried out 294 attacks and caused 2,154 fatalities worldwide.

ISIS can still carry out attacks and kill civilians because it has plenty of surplus illicit funds. As an innovative criminal organization that understands money is power, it has successfully smuggled $400 million out of Syria and Iraq. The need to stop ISIS finances is urgent. The U.S. should lead in the creation of an international task force to work with bank regulatory organizations to stop ISIS financing.

Over the years, ISIS has mastered the art of illicit financing through oil and antique smuggling, human trafficking, extortion, taxation, and kidnapping for ransom. The U.S. policy has included economic sanctions on financiers and facilitators of ISIS, programs to track ISIS funds, and military operations such as air raids to target ISIS goods. Nonetheless, ISIS is still smuggling goods and investing in businesses. It is still able to use its profits to recruit members, expand its networks, and carry out attacks on innocent civilians.

The Global Coalition to Counter ISIS includes a Counter ISIS Finance Group (CIFG). It has 52 participating countries and the U.S, Italy, and Saudi Arabia are co-chairs. Members share a common threat perception, share methods to disrupt cash flows and establish precedents that governments are encouraged to follow. But encouraging governments is not enough. Its missing element is supervision of bank regulatory organizations in the Middle East.

The problem is clear: ISIS utilizes major banks, such as a Kuwait-based bank, Kuwait Finance House, and a Turkish financial institution, Kuveyt-Turk Participation Bank, Inc., to transfer funds. Local governments struggle to address and control the corruption of banks in their countries. As a result, ISIS operates freely. A U.S.-led international task force is necessary to supervise banking activity and stop ISIS.

First, an international task force will ensure that official regulatory bodies will intervene when needed. ISIS exploits the fact that many banks turn a blind eye to its illicit activities in order to conduct business. With the proper resources, a U.S.-led task force can guarantee that regulatory organizations monitor money laundering and transfers of large sums of money.

Second, an international task force will ensure that banks report suspicious activity. The task force, working with local regulators, will monitor banks to make sure they report any suspicious activity that comes through their system – because it very well can be linked to ISIS.

Third, an international task force will oversee how regulatory bodies evaluate corporations and companies. Financiers who are operating banks, private companies, or small businesses around the world are vulnerable to ISIS exploitation. The task force can pinpoint those specific companies that are aiding ISIS.

Some concerns may emerge. To ensure our coalition partners in the Middle East support this project, they must be equal partners. The task force can alternate roles to oversee regulatory bank organizations to ensure all members are equally involved. There are concerns that ISIS can exploit banks elsewhere in the world. Understanding ISIS’s intentions, governments in Latin America have already adopted tough policies to prevent terrorist funds passing through their financial institutions. Others can and should follow their example. There are concerns ISIS will continue to use banks it controls in Syria or Iraq—but their access to financial markets will be cut off once the international task force is in place.

For years, a common goal for the international community has been to come together to win the fight against terrorism. The fight against ISIS will not be over until its illicit finances are stopped. A U.S.-led international task force will fight evil and promote the general good. Financial markets will be more secure and the world will be a safer place.