By P.K.Balachandran/Ceylon Today
Colombo, May 20: The Sri Lankan government has announced the proscription of three Islamic State (IS) affiliates, namely, the National Tawheed Jamaath (NTJ), the Jamaathei Millathu Ibrahimee Seylani (JIMS) and the Wilayath as Seylani (WAS).
The first two were publically identified soon after the April 21 Easter Sunday suicide attacks which resulted in 253 deaths. But the Wilayath as Seylani (WAS) was named only on recently, perhaps because it was discovered during the investigations into the multiple suicide bombings. The government is yet to give details of the Wilayat as Seylani and its operations in Sri Lanka.
However, according to Dr. Rohan Gunaratna, a co-author of “The Three Pillars of Radicalization” (Oxford University Press 2019), the Islamic State’s Caliphate has not formally declared the formation of WAS though its formation is being discussed at the highest level in the organization and its establishment is very much on the cards.
“The Islamic State’s plan may be to declare WAS’s formation if anti-Muslim violence continues in Sri Lanka and an excuse can be given for the formation of a separate Wilayath for Sri Lanka,” he said.
The term Wilayath refers to a “province”. Since 2014, the IS has set up Wilayaths or provinces in various parts of the world. These Wilayaths are not conventional provinces but fields of IS operation. Among the IS’s Wilayaths in South Asia are Wilayath Khorasan (covering Afghnaistan and Pakistan) and Wilayath al Hind (covering India with the nerve center being located in Kashmir). To this has been added Wilayath as Seylani ( Seylan is the Arabic name for Sri Lanka).
According to Dr.Gunaratna, Mohammad Zahran, the leader of the NTJ, who carried out the suicide bombing of Shangri- La hotel in Colombo, had been wanting to set up an IS Willayath in Sri Lanka.
The Lankan government was probably aware of the discussions going on at the highest levels in the IS Caliphate about forming WAS and had banned it in anticipation.
Communal clashes, with the majority community staging mob attacks against Muslims, would have paved the way for the realization of terrorist Zahran’s dream.
“It is therefore very important for the government of Sri Lanka to ensure that there are no communal clashes and that Buddhists, Christians and Muslims live harmoniously and side by side in safety and security. If need be, government should issue shoot at sight orders to quell mobs on the rampage,” Dr. Gunaratna said.
In his paper entitled “Islamic State’s Financing: Sources, Methods and Utilization” in the booklet “Counter terrorism- trends and analyses,” brought out in 2017 by the S.Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Singapore, Patrick Blannin says that the Islamic State is a multi-million dollar organization, which can throw money in many parts of the world to recruit, train, retain cadres and carry out its operations.
If Sri Lanka becomes a hub or a Wilayath of the IS , it would be exposed to the dangers other parts of the world with Wilayaths face now.
According Blannin, the IS is a self-sufficient organization not depending upon any State or individual for its funds. He quotes Patrick Johnson to say that in 2008, before Abu Bakr al Baghdadi became leader of the IS, the organization was financing itself by running smuggling rackets.
Looking at the financial muscle of the IS, it comes as no surprise that Zahran’s small group in Sri Lanka had as much as Rs. 7 billion worth of assets and Rs.140 million in cash.
Baghdadi’s predecessor, and IS founder, Abu Mu’sab al Zarkawi, had earned US$ 70 million to US$ 200 million annually through oil smuggling. Kidnapping for ransom got the IS another US$ 36 million. Keith Crane from RAND Corporation told a US Senate Committee that the IS made about US$ 1.2 billion in 2015 alone by various, mostly illegal, activities.
According to a 2015 study, the IS earned money from the oil business by attacking, holding, and operating oil infrastructure facilities in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Egypt. Sale of oil and petroleum products fetched it US$ 40 million per month in 2015. IS also operated refineries.
Anyone could buy oil from the IS. It sold at a competitive rate, and therefore sales were good. According to one estimate it charged US$ 20 per barrel in 2015. One report said that it made US$ 1.5 million a day on oil sales. However, US strikes against IS oil facilities in 2016 brought down revenues from oil rackets by 33%.
Interestingly, the many anti-IS groups in the Middle East were using the same methods to earn money to carry out their anti-IS operations.
Human smuggling is another racket which the IS had been running. It ran such rackets in Nigeria, Sahel, Libya, Egypt, Iraq and Syria. Prior to Libya’s action in 2016, the IS had a free run of 260 km of the Mediterranean Coast. It is said to have taxed agents involved in the smuggling 250,000 people to Europe across the Mediterranean.
It is alleged that the IS would attack refugee camps, forcing the refugees to flee and then made them pay to get across to Europe.
Though the Salafi Islam it propagates is against idols, the IS has had no compunction about stealing and trading in idols illegally. And the business was booming when it had many parts of Iraq under its control. As many as 4500 archaeological sites including some in the UNESCO World Heritage List, were under its control enabling it to vandalize the sites and sell priceless artefacts. This raised concerns in the UN and the Security Council passed a resolution in 2015 criminalizing this activity.
Taxation Cum Extortion
Taxation is another method of making money. The IS reportedly collected not less than US$300 million annually by taxing business and levying religious taxes. The religious tax on business was as high as 20%. Agriculture too was a source of income because at one time the IS-controlled 40% of the agricultural land in Iraq.
IS’s “cyber jihadis” openly advise their online supporters how to use Dark Wallet, an anonymous bitcoin transfer application, as well as how to set up an anonymous donations system to send money, using bitcoin, to the mujahedeen, says Patrick Blannin.‖
“Whilst providing a communication channel with mass reach, IS online forums serve as virtual marketplaces for cybercrime tools such as malware and ransom-ware, as well as for skilled hackers, who can be hired for criminal services.”
“The Internet has globalized fraudulent schemes, giving fraudsters access to millions of potential victims. British IS supporters committed a large-scale fraud by pretending to be police officers and targeting the UK pensioners for their bank details, earning more than US$1.8 million.”
“ Magnus Ranstorp has found that IS operatives have used fake identities and payslips to apply for funds through online applications. They have used these identities to secure soft bank loans, quick loans (SMS loans), government and private welfare schemes as well as lease motor vehicles.”