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Here’s where terrorist groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda get their money


One of the biggest challenges posed by ISIS is just how well funded the group is. Also known as ISIL, the Islamic State, or Daesh, the group pulls in hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

A report assessing the UK’s risk of money laundering and terrorist financing released by the government earlier this year spells out clearly just how groups like ISIS, Al Qaeda, Al Shabaab, and Boko Haram raise the money needed to operate a terrorist group.

We’ve rounded up the ways terrorists finance their activities below, drawing on the report and other investigations, and ordered them based on how profitable each activity is estimated to be.

6. Scamming banks

An Islamic State fighter in the countryside of the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani after Islamic State fighters took control of the area in 2014.
One way terrorists can get funds is by scamming banks. The key dangers are fraud and complicit employees helping terrorists gain access to bank accounts and loans.

Fraudulent loan applications provide a key source of funds for jihadists wanting to travel to Syria to join ISIS, funding their journey. A recent New York Times report on the Paris terrorist attacks notes that one future jihadist got €15,000 (£10,700, $16,200) from ING Belgium.

The UK government report adds: “The use of the banking sector by terrorists remains a threat, in particular in the context of Syria. Individuals can use cash machines/ATMs to withdraw funds in neighbouring countries where there is a formal banking sector and then carry funds into Syria.”

There is also some evidence that the UK’s student-loan system has been abused to fund terrorism, according to the report. But it concludes that the banking system is only a “medium” risk — the funds raised through these means are comparatively low.

5. Selling antiques and artifacts

Iraqi relics recovered by US special forces fighting ISIS in Syria.
ISIS has wasted no time in looting the heritage of the parts of Syria and Iraq under its control.

While the destruction of antiques and artifacts has generated more headlines, Unesco warned earlier this year that ISIS was looting antiques and artifacts on an “industrial scale.”

Many of these “blood antiques” are thought to end up on the market in London, one of the biggest international markets, according to The Guardian.

4. Donations

Al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front fighters during the release of Lebanese soldiers and police officers in Arsal, eastern Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, on Tuesday.
Terrorist organisations enjoy a stream of donations from supporters in countries around the world.

These can take the form of small operators collecting from local communities or, largely in the Gulf states, big-ticket donations.

“Private donations originating from the Gulf are a vital funding stream for AQ,” or Al Qaeda, “and AQ affiliated groups,” according to the report.

In the case of small operators, the report notes that there are some instances of fund-raisers abusing the charity sector. In one case in 2013, two men were convicted of “fraudulently presenting themselves as charity fundraisers using high visibility vests and collections buckets bearing the name of the charity Muslim Aid.”

Once raised, donations are passed to a network of facilitators who move the money to terrorist groups without detection.

They do this by making a series of small transfers at money-transfer shops, small enough to not need identification documents, or by using cash couriers who take the funds across borders.

3. Ransoms

Men purported to be Egyptian Christians held captive by ISIS kneeling in front of armed men along a beach said to be near Tripoli, in this image from an undated video made available on social media on February 15.
The UK government’s report estimates that ISIS raised an estimated $35 million (£23 million) to $45 million (£29.8 million) from September


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