The U.S. Department of the Treasury announced this morning the terrorism designations of 15 Islamic State (IS) terrorism facilitators. The U.S. Department of State also issued designations against a separate tranche of IS-linked entities and individuals. The designations reveal several important things about Washington’s understanding of the organization and its efforts to combat it.
First, the designation list underscores the global reach of IS to include: Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, the United Kingdom, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Caucasus, France, Russia, Algeria, Egypt, Tajikistan, and Bosnia. The expansive network is an indicator of the challenges ahead for the U.S.-led Counter-ISIL Finance Group and the pressing need for global cooperation.
The overlap between IS and al-Qaeda affiliate groups on the Treasury list is also striking. For example, Mu'tassim Yahya 'Ali al-Rumaysh coordinated with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate the Nusra Front to facilitate the travel of IS members. Similarly, Mounir Ben Dhaou Ben Brahim Ben Helal provided material support to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and worked to assist foreign terrorist fighters' travel throughout North Africa to join IS. These designations would seem to challenge the notion that al-Qaeda and IS are competing. Indeed, if these designations are indicators, the two global jihadist groups may be cooperating.
The Treasury designations also reinforce the centrality of Turkey to IS finance. Three individuals (al-Rumaysh, Tarad Mohammad Aljarba, and Morad Laaboudi) were all identified as having facilitated the transfer of foreign fighters between Turkey and Syria. While U.S. officials claim there has been a marked improvement in Turkey on this score, the Treasury designations tell another, more troubling story.
The designation of individuals on the ground in Syria and Iraq is a good sign for U.S. intelligence. The prevailing assumption is that intelligence collection has been limited amidst the escalating chaos. These designations, particularly those issued by the Treasury, seem to indicate that the U.S. has increased its collection capabilities – a crucial component in the effort to defeat IS.
Today’s designations are the result of hundreds of man-hours in research, demonstrating a renewed seriousness on the part of the Obama administration to combat IS. Unfortunately, the impact of today’s designations will be limited. Most, if not all, of the actors identified do not transact through the formal financial sector. Designations are a limited tool that must ultimately supplement a broader Syria strategy that the administration has yet to formulate.
Jonathan Schanzer, a former terrorism analyst at the U.S. Treasury, is Vice President for Research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @JSchanzer