The looting and illegal sale of antiquities has become a new profit centre for ISIS. In early December, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated that the looting of cultural property and antiquities, particularly in Iraq and Syria, has become a matter of international security. Ban told a UNESCO-hosted conference on threats to cultural heritage and diversity, “The protection of cultural heritage is a security imperative.”
Gangs of looters have taken advantage of the upheaval in Iraq and Syria, and have hired people, sometimes numbering in the hundreds, to carry out illegal excavations in search of historic or religions artefacts. The newly found pieces are then immediately to middlemen or antiquities smugglers. This instant profit has become a significant source of funding for ISIS, which uses the revenues for the purchase of weapons and other items. Analysts speculate that the trafficking of such antiquities is increasing as the fighting between ISIS and coalition forces continues. US Secretary of State John Kerry said, “Ancient treasures in Iraq and in Syria have now become the casualties of continuing warfare and looting.”
Since their rapid expansion over the summer, the primary source of income for ISIS has been oil. The group controls as many as eight oil fields in Syria; in October, it was estimated that ISIS was gaining between one and two million dollars a day in black market oil revenue, making it the most well funded and richest terrorist organisation in history. The US-led coalition strikes have conducted targeted strikes on ISIS-controlled energy infrastructure, including refineries and distribution centres, in an attempt to dwindle this source of funding. Recent reports from Washington suggest these efforts have been successful. Further, the strikes have reportedly scared would-be smugglers who would transport black market oil through the region. Transport of black market oil is also being halted by ground forces which have increased the monitoring of oil smuggling routes into Turkey and Kurdistan. The combined efforts have reportedly cut sharply into ISIS revenues.
Apart from oil, ISIS has profited from other avenues, including kidnap for ransom, extortion, donations, and imposing heavy taxes in the regions which they control. However the looting and immediate sale of black market antiquities has become an increasingly lucrative source of revenue. UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, said, “There can be no purely military solution to this crisis. To fight fanaticism, we also need to reinforce education, a defence against hatred, and protect heritage, which helps forge collective identity.” UNESCO is promoting broad measures to stem the tide of loss and destruction, including the establishment of “protected cultural zones” which would be monitored by local and central governments, as well as international parties. Other measures include an international ban on the illicit trafficking or sale of antiquities from Syria, and the creation of a global registry of antiquities that are being placed on the market. The latter would force buyers to prove the item’s legitimacy and send “a strong message that artefacts with questionable origins will be subject to severe scrutiny and ethical conduct investigation.” The registry would drive down the value of ill-gotten antiquities.
A recent report revealed the annual income and its sources for ISIS as well as other terrorist groups. ISIS earns approximately $2 billion US from oil, tolls and taxes making it the richest terrorist group in the world. At a distant second, the Afghan Taliban profits from donations and drug sales to the tune of $400 million annually. Al-Shabaab revenues total $100 million from the sale of charcoal and the imposition of taxes; Boko Haram has raised approximately $10 million, predominantly from kidnap for ransom.
Meanwhile, a recent report also suggested that al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and other Sahel terrorist groups are working with Colombian drug cartels to transport drugs across North Africa and into Europe. Leaders of AQIM have reportedly met several times with representatives of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). “Narco-jihadists” transport cargo by road through a triangle that includes Libya, Niger, Algeria, Mali, and Mauritania. Statistics indicate that AQIM has received sums amounting to 15% of the total sold by smugglers. Who pay the terrorist groups to provide secure passage of their drug convoys, before the contraband is transported to Europe through organised crime networks. In June 2013, an Algerian security report warned of the growing ties between terrorist groups and drugs smuggling gangs, as authorities revealed a relation between drug smugglers and terror financing cells.
9 December- The US State Department warned U.S. Embassy staff in Cairo to remain close to their homes. A memo released by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security reads, “In light of the heightened tensions and recent attacks on Westerners in the region, the U.S. Embassy has recommended that its staff carefully scrutinize their personal movements and consider staying close to their residences and neighborhoods over the coming period.” It is believed that ISIS and affiliated groups may have increased their targeting of Western nationals in recent weeks. Last week, ISIS-linked Egyptian militant group Ansar Beit al Maqdis took responsibility for the killing of Texan oil worked William Henderson, who was reported missing and killed in August. The embassy has remained open.
Meanwhile, the British embassy in Cairo suspended services beginning Sunday. The embassy declined to give details or indicate when it would reopen. The British Consulate-General in Alexandria is operating as normal. A spokesperson for the British embassy stated, “The decision to suspend public services at the embassy has been taken for security reasons and is in the best interests of our staff. The decision is independent of our wider travel advice for Egypt.” An anonymous source indicated that a suspected militant who was recently detained by Egyptian authorities had confessed to plans to target foreign embassies.
On Monday, Canada also closed its embassy in Cairo due to “security concerns.” No other details have been given to explain the closure, but it is thought to be linked to a video released by ISIS on Sunday. The video depicts a man identified as Canadian militant John Maguire (a.k.a. Abu Anwar al-Canadi) urging attacks against his home country. The video refers to the killing of Canadian soldiers and an attack on parliament in Ottawa, and shows Maguire urging Muslims to follow the example of the recent attacks.
Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney cautioned Canadians in Egypt to remain vigilant. A message on Canada’s Cairo Embassy website states: “The ability to provide consular services may occasionally be limited for short periods due to unsettled security conditions.”
In addition, the US and British diplomatic mission to the United Arab Emirates has warned citizens to be vigilant of further terror attacks targeting Westerners after a school teacher was stabbed to death in a shopping mall and a bomb left outside the home of an American family. The US embassy said it was “engaged at the senior-most levels of the UAE government to ensure the safety and security of US citizens in the UAE,” but urged US citizens to vary their routines and schedules.
Romanian-born Ibolya Ryan, 47, who had become an American citizen and trained as a teacher in the US, died on Thursday after she was attacked by a veiled woman with a butcher’s knife in a public toilet at the Boutik Mall in Abu Dhabi, the UAE’s capital.
A woman has been arrested in connection with the brutal murder of Ibolya Ryan, a Romanian-born naturalised American teacher. The woman is also believed to have left a bomb in front of the home of an Egyptian-American doctor. The bomb was defused before it could detonate. It is believed that the woman may have been working with others to target Westerners.
In response to the recent attacks, Aliya Mawani, counsellor at the Canadian Embassy in Riyadh, said that Canada’s Travel advisory for Bahrain is advising Canadians to exercise a high degree of caution: ‘We encourage all Canadians to monitor updates on the Travel Advisory for Bahrain on a regular basis.”
3 December- The Islamic State of Iraq and Levant and the Sham(ISIS) are conducting a marketing strategy which recommends the Sinai as a destination for young militant recruits. The move comes after Sinai-based terrorist group Ansar Beit al Maqdis (Ansar Jerusalem), swore allegiance to ISIS and its leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi on 10 November. Soon thereafter, Ansar Beit al Maqdis began to refer to itself as “the Islamic State’s province in the Sinai”. ISIS has envisioned a caliphate stretching from Iraq to the Mediterranean. While ISIS does not have any actual control in the Sinai, the announcement is an attempt to marginalise other militants, perhaps to convince them to pledge allegiance to Baghdadi as well. ISIS supporters are calling on fighters globally to help Baghdadi’s organization build up its presence in the Sinai even further.
ISIS has made use of the Al Battar Media Establishment and the Media Front in Support of the Islamic State, two radicalised publishing establishments that deliver propaganda through social media. Each has posted a six-page article on Twitter written by a fighter known as “Abu Musab al Gharib”, who argues that the establishment of the Islamic State’s province in the Sinai will lead to greater unification of ISIS groups across the Middle East and North Africa. In November, ISIS gained total administrative control over Derna in the Eastern Province of Libya, and has set up training facilities in the mountainous regions in order to train North African fighters. By creating a unified front, Gharib ominously states, it will become easier for the jihadists to advance on Jerusalem and engage in the “liquidating” of the Jews in Egypt, Golan, Jordan, and Lebanon.
ISIS’s expansion has increased already existing tensions with other militant organisations. Al Qaeda has appeared to be at odds with the group and has competed for militants in “recruitment drives”, even opening a branch in Southeast Asia. Baghdadi and ISIS claim that their “caliphate” has usurped the authority of terrorist organisations in Egypt, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. However the most organised and strong among these groups have not given over to Baghdadi. However despite the hindrance of competing terrorist organisations, reports indicate that ISIS’s campaign has been successful. Foreign fighters from the Levant, North Africa, Yemen, and elsewhere have travelled to the Sinai for training and other purposes.
Worryingly, the Sinai group appears to be increasingly active. Over the last weekend of November, Ansar Beit al Maqdis, under their new moniker, claimed to have killed an American oil worker. On Sunday, the group published an image on Twitter of a passport and two identification cards belonging to William Henderson, a 58-year-old employee of the Apache Corporation and Qarun Petroluem Co. Henderson was thought to have been killed in a carjacking incident in August.
It is uncertain whether Ansar Beit al Maqdis was actually responsible for the killing or just claiming it; the US State department is still investigating Henderson’s death and the US Embassy in Cairo has not disclosed any information. However the claim raises international concern that Sinai based radicals may begin to expand their targets beyond Egyptian military and security forces, or may even begin seeking Westerners for kidnap for ransom, or to send a visible political message.
25 November– In an overnight operation, Yemeni Special Forces freed eight hostages who had been held by a group tied to al-Qaeda in Lahji province, Southern Yemen. Seven of the kidnappers were reportedly killed in the operation.
Sources state that seven Yemeni nationals were released, along with an eighth foreign national. The Yemeni Supreme Security Committee did not disclose the nationality of the foreign hostage. Sources suggest the victim was a US military instructor who worked at al-Anad Air Base, nearly 37 miles north of Aden. However senior US defence officials have denied these reports. In 2012, the US resumed on-the-ground military training in an attempt to arm Yemeni security forces in the fight against al Qaeda. It is believed that the rescue operation took place near the base. One member of the Yemeni Special Forces was lightly wounded in the mission.
Kidnapping has become increasingly common in Yemen. In recent years, Al Qaeda has taken advantage of the “hostage black market” in which they outsource the seizing of hostages to regional tribes, gangs or affiliates, who are in turn, paid a commission. This practice has been used by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen, which is regarded as one of the most active al Qaeda branches in the world. AQAP has been known to work with local tribes that abduct victims for financial benefit. Al Qaeda collects the hostages and seeks to negotiate for ransom. Further, political kidnapping has occurred in instances where tribesmen kidnap victims in an attempt to resolve disputes with the government.
Meanwhile, a potential security breach has been reported at the US Embassy in Yemen. A corrupt worker is believed to have taken bribes and processed as many as 50 fraudulent visas, allowing applicants to enter the United States with falsified documents. The documents claim that the applicants were to travel to Houston for an oil industry conference. The State Department investigation reveals that the oil companies listed on the applications were fictitious, and none of the applicants attended the ‘Offshore Technology Conference’ after travelling to the US. The whereabouts of the Yemeni nationals are unknown. Further, the true purpose of their entry to the US is unclear; speculation ranges from attempts to conduct terrorist operations in the US, to fleeing from a war torn nation. It is unknown whether the entrants pose a risk to national security.
The visas were issued at the US embassy in Sana’a. A legal complaint lists a single defendant, who was discovered working in a grocery store in the Bronx, New York. He has been arrested on fraud charges and is held without bail.
According to a new report into international terrorism released this week, the number of deaths caused by terrorism increased by 61% between 2012 and 2013.
The 2014 Global Terrorism Index has revealed that in 2013, there were nearly 10,000 terrorist attacks globally, which represents a 44% increase from the previous year. Over the past year, 17958 people died from terrorist attacks, with the largest increase in deaths primarily due to the on-going civil war in Syria, which began in 2011. Of this number, 14,7222, or 80% of the total of deaths, occurred in just five countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan and Syria. India, Somalia, the Philippines, Yemen and Thailand were the next five, accounting for between 1% and 2.3% of global deaths due to terrorism.
According to the report, which is produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), 66% of all deaths from terrorist attacks in 2012 were due to four main terrorist groups: Islamic State, al-Qaeda, the Taliban and Boko Haram. Iraq was the country that was most affected by terrorism in 2013, with more than 6,000 people dying. The report notes that “not only is the intensity of terrorism increasing, its breadth is increasing as well.”
The report, which also investigates terrorism between 2000 and 2013, indicated that while Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries only experienced 5% of all deaths from terrorism since 2000, the report did note that these countries suffered some of the deadliest attacks that have been carried out over the past thirteen years. This includes the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States; the 2004 train bombings in Madrid, Spain; the 2005 London bombings and the 2012 bombing and shooting attack that occurred in Norway. In 2013, Turkey and Mexico were the OECD countries that had the highest number of deaths from terrorism, 57 and 40 respectively.