The Obama administration's Treasury Department said Thursday that the Islamic State is earning about $30 million each month by smuggling oil out of the Middle East, and earns millions more through kidnapping and extortion.
David Cohen, under secretary of Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, reiterated that the Islamic State is a very-well financed terrorist organization, and said U.S. officials are continuing to work on ways to reduce those profits.
Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen talks about actions the Treasury Department is taking to combat financing for the Islamic State group during the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Cohen said the group's biggest source of money comes from smuggling oil. "Our best understanding is that ISIL, since about mid-June, has earned approximately $1 million a day through the sale of smuggled oil," he said at a White House briefing, using an alternative shorthand for the terrorist group.
"We are looking very carefully at who the middlemen are who are involved in the sale of the oil that ISIL is smuggling," he added. The U.S. has also launched airstrikes against several small oil refineries that the group has captured.
So far this year, the Islamic State has earned $20 million through kidnapping people and ransoming them. That adds up to another $2 million or so each month this year.
Additionally, Cohen said the group earns "several million dollars per month through its various extortion networks and criminal activity in the territory where it operates."
Aside from trying to find the people who help the Islamic State sell oil, the Obama administration is taking other steps aimed at reducing the group's cash flow. That includes trying to convince other countries not to pay ransoms that the group seeks — U.S. officials have long argued that paying ransom only encourages more kidnappings, and helps keep terrorist groups financially stable.
Cohen said the U.S. is also looking to block the group's access to external funding networks, such as people who will bundle cash for the terrorist outfit. And, officials are trying to block the Islamic State from using several bank branches in Iraq.
When asked how much money the Islamic State was collecting from western countries, Cohen indicated it's not clear. "Obviously it's something my counterparts in law enforcement are carefully looking at," he said.