Washington Post (June 12) — Of the many stunning revelations to emerge out of the wreckage of Mosul on Wednesday — 500,000 fleeing residents, thousands of freed prisoners, unconfirmed reports of “mass beheadings” — the one that may have the most lasting impact as Iraq descends into a possible civil war is that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria just got extremely rich.
As insurgents rolled past Iraq’s second largest city, an oil hub at the vital intersection of Syria, Iraq and Turkey, and into Tikrit, several gunmen stopped at Mosul’s central bank. An incredible amount of cash was reportedly on hand, and the group made off with 500 billion Iraqi dinars — $425 million.
The provincial governor of Nineveh, Atheel al-Nujaifi, confirmed that the ISIS Islamists had lifted additional millions from numerous banks across Mosul, as well as a “large quantity of gold bullion,” according to the International Business Times, which called it the “World’s Richest Terror Force.”
The declaration isn’t an easy one to fact check. Not only is the definition of “terrorist” nebulous — are murderous but wealthy Mexican cartels terrorists? — it’s also exceedingly difficult to quantify a terrorist organization’s finances. One of the closest stabs anyone has made comes from the well-versed Money Jihad.
According to its analysis, which drew on journalistic and academic accounts, the cash seizure would make ISIS the richest terrorist organization in the world — at least for the time being.
The Taliban, the New York Times reported, had a one-time annual operating budget of somewhere between $70 million and $400 million. Hezbollah was working with between $200 million and $500 million. FARC in Colombia had annual revenues of $80 to $350 million. Al-Shabab had between $70 and $100 million socked away. And Al-Qaeda, meanwhile, was working with a $30 million operating budget at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.