The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated on April 16 six individuals and a money exchange company with offices in Turkey for their roles in a key Islamic State financial network. The designation exposes Ankara’s continued failure to crack down on the jihadist group’s financial networks in Turkey.
The six designated individuals are part of the Rawi Network, whose operations in Turkey and Iraq are led by the Belgium-based Iraqi national, Mushtaq Talib Zughayr al-Rawi. Treasury also designated his son and two of his brothers, along with two other members of the extended family.
From 2017 on, the Rawi network oversaw money transfers to and from Turkey on behalf of the Islamic State, OFAC said. With the help of unnamed Turkey-based individuals, the network moved money through Turkey’s northern province of Samsun to support the Islamic State’s leaders in Iraq and Syria. As of May 2018, the network operated Islamic State hawalas, or money transfers, out of the Turkish branch of the Al-Ard Al-Jadidah Money Exchange Company, which Treasury also designated.
OFAC previously designated at least 11 other individuals or entities operating in Turkey on behalf of the Islamic State or other jihadist groups like al-Qaeda or Islamic Jihad. Since 2014, Turkey has been a key jurisdiction for smuggling weapons, cash, and militants to the Islamic State in Syria. Although Washington repeatedly warned Turkey to seal and monitor its porous 550-mile border with Syria, Ankara allowed the Islamic State to exploit its territory until 2016, when the Turkish military helped to clear the terror group’s last stronghold near the Syrian border with Turkey. This week’s OFAC designation, however, shows that the jihadist group continued to operate from Turkish territory well into 2018.
Ankara’s failure to crack down on jihadist networks in Turkey is a matter of choice, not incompetence. Since a failed coup attempt threatened his grip on power in 2016, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has employed all government and judicial institutions under his control to purge dissidents from the Turkish state and bureaucracy. Ankara has jailed more than 150,000 dissidents – including journalists, academics, and artists – on spurious charges of terrorism. Yet jihadists detained in Turkey are often released without charges or receive lenient sentences – especially compared to government critics.
While Ankara boasts of its commitment to defeating the Islamic State, Turkey continues to be a major jurisdiction for illicit finance – evident also in its facilitation of Iranian and Venezuelan sanctions evasion schemes. The U.S. should urge Ankara to adopt a zero tolerance policy toward terror finance, and to end its permissive policies and lenient treatment of jihadist networks within Turkey. Rather than jailing dissident academics, journalists, and opposition politicians, Ankara should instead focus its law enforcement resources on the jihadist networks and financiers who threaten Turkey’s national security.
Merve Tahiroglu is a research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where she also contributes to FDD’s Center on Economic and Financial Power (CEFP). Follow Merve on Twitter @MerveTahiroglu. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_CEFP. FDD is a Washington-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.