It has often been said that the Islamic State (IS) operates like a mafia. The group has been largely self-sufficient since 2005 relying upon a number of criminal activities to fund itself. After its recent success in Syria and Iraq it also acquired control of several oil fields that greatly boosted its ability to raise money. Declining oil prices, Coalition air strikes, and the loss of two fields recently in Salahaddin has now hurt that industry. Since the group has such large costs to maintain its forces and hold over its territory it must now find other sources. There are reports that the drug trade might be becoming a new money making activity for IS.
Starting in 2014 European law enforcement and intelligence agencies began reporting that the Islamic State had become a major player in the continent’s drug trafficking. In October 2014 for example, Spanish intelligence said that IS was importing drugs to Europe to finance itself. It would smuggle drugs in and then bring back weapons, foreign fighters and other items to Syria and Iraq. The next month, Russia’s Federal Drug Control Service told the press that IS was supplying nearly half of Europe’s heroin with its main drug source being Afghanistan. The head of the agency, Viktor Ivanov said that this was a renewable resource for IS. A later report in March 2015 claimed that IS was making $1 billion annually from this illicit trade. That amount seems far too high, but it is undoubtedly making a lot if it has gained an important hold on the narcotics trade.
The Islamic State needs money and lots of it to maintain its control over Iraq and Syria. It needs to pay fighters, provide pensions to the families of its dead, run factories and deliver services. For years now it has relied upon criminal activities to pay for itself. Getting involved in the drug trade would be in line with that history, and more importantly, could provide a huge amount of funds. It is also extremely hard to crackdown upon given its illegal nature. If the Spanish and Russian reports are true, it has already become a major player. IS has proven amazingly resourceful throughout its life, and has constantly sought new ways to fund itself, and narcotics might just be its latest endeavor.
Paraszczuk, Joanna, “Russia Claims IS Supplying Half Of All Afghan Heroin Coming To Europe,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 11/26/14
Sharkov, Damien, “Islamic State Use Drug Trade to Bankroll Their Jihad, Says Spanish Intelligence,” Newsweek, 10/20/14
Timothy, Odultolu, “ISIS Earns $1 Billion Dollars Annually For Delivering Afghanistan Heroin,” Gidi Post, 3/8/15