As reported by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), the U.S. Department of the Treasury in a report issued on January 4, 2021, documented the Islamic State often relied on “logistical hubs in Turkey” to transfer funds internationally, especially between Iraq and Syria. Treasury identified Turkey-based Islamic State networks three times since 2019, which, along with the department’s latest finding, shows that jihadists continue to thrive in the permissive environment Ankara has cultivated.
As the FDD reports, the Treasury’s Office of Inspector General presented its first quarterly report of the year to the Department of Defense regarding Treasury’s support for Operation Inherent Resolve, the campaign against the Islamic State. The quarterly report highlights that the Islamic State continues to raise funds through “extortion of oil smuggling networks in eastern Syria, kidnapping for ransom targeting civilian businesses and populations, looting, and possibly the operation of front companies” and has “as much as $100 million available in cash reserves dispersed across the region.” According to Treasury’s assessment, the Islamic State uses money services businesses to transfer funds, often utilizing logistical hubs in Turkey.
Since 2014, Turkey has been a key jurisdiction the Islamic State exploits for smuggling militants, weapons, and funds to Syria. In early 2019, after stepping down as U.S. special envoy for the international coalition against the Islamic State, Brett McGurk wrote that although President Barack Obama repeatedly asked his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, “to control the Turkish border with Syria,” through which Islamic State fighters and materiel “flowed freely,” Erdogan “took no action.” Six months later, following a U.S. Special Operations Forces raid that killed Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, McGurk said that Turkey “has some explaining to do,” since Baghdadi was found “just a few miles from Turkey’s border,” in a province “protected by a dozen Turkish military outposts since early 2018.”
Over the last two years, Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has taken repeated steps to designate Islamic State networks exploiting Turkey’s permissive environment. In April 2019, Treasury sanctioned six individuals and a currency exchange company based in Turkey with links to the Rawi Network, whose members are key financiers for the Islamic State. Five months later, OFAC designated Turkey-based terror financiers working for both the Islamic State and Hamas. In November 2019, OFAC issued sanctions against three Turkish entities and two Turkish citizens for “providing critical financial and logistical support” to the Islamic State. Last month, Treasury designated two Egyptians based in Turkey for being leaders of Harakat Sawa’d Misr, a Foreign Terrorist Organization.
As it did following Baghdadi’s death, Ankara often responds to such shaming with frantic roundups of alleged Islamic State members within its jurisdiction. This time around, Ankara also responded to Treasury’s findings by launching well-publicized police operations against the Islamic State in 15 provinces and arresting 35 suspects. Such publicity stunts, however, rarely result in a sustained effort against jihadists in concert with the U.S.-led international coalition against the Islamic State. The Paris-based news agency Agence France-Presse, for example, exposed in November 2019 that Ankara had been detaining key Islamic State figures since 2018 but failed to mention them to allies for over a year.