The Islamic State of Syria and Iraq is not simply devouring swathes of Iraq and Syria as they fall to hand, it is following a calculated, far-sighted plan. A corner of this plan was lifted this week in the latest edition of ISIS’s English-language online magazine Dabiq. Under the title “A Perfect Storm,” the writer asserts: “The Islamic State has billions of dollars in the bank, so they call on their wilayah (chapter) in Pakistan to purchase a nuclear device through weapons dealers with links to corrupt officials.”
The piece is attributed to the British photojournalist John Cantlie, who ISIS has held hostage for two years and uses for its propaganda.
He goes on to raise a “hypothetical” possibility, whereby ISIS operatives in Pakistan bribe an official to provide them with a nuclear device, which is then smuggled into America via Libya, Nigeria and Mexico.
On the face of it, this suggestion sounds improbable given the extreme US and Pakistani security measures in place for guarding Islamabad’s nuclear arsenal. But, not too long ago, the frightening speed with which the Islamic State is slashing its way through countries of the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent – and the huge assets it is scooping up along the way – looked just as improbable.
ISIS scoops up energy resources along with territory
In the last fortnight, after broadening the space under its control in Syria and Iraq, armored ISIS columns were reported exclusively by debkafile Sunday, May 24, to be heading out of newly-captured Palmyra for the Jordanian border.
The Saudis woke up in alarm Friday, May 22 when a suicide bomber blew himself up in a Shiite Mosque in the oil-rich eastern Qatif region. The kingdom had obviously been invaded by secret ISIS cells, which were evidently being activated to ignite the Shiite minority into sectarian conflict with the Sunni crown in Riyadh. This uprising would force the world’s biggest oil exporter to wind down production.
When ISIS overran Ramadi in Iraq and Palmyra in Syria this week, there, too, territory was not the sole objective. Both acquisitions brought the terrorists closer to a grab for Middle East energy resources.
By now, the Islamists not only control three-quarters of Syria, but also 90 percent of its oil, including the al-Furat, al-Omar and Deir Zour fields, which have a combined capacity of 114,000 bpd, although present production runs at roughly 15,000 to 30,000 bpd.
Another half dozen fields have been commandeered in northern Iraq: Ajeel, Himrin, Ain Zalah, Safiyah, Batmah and Qayara, which have a combined capacity of 175,000 bpd and are now producing up to 10,000 bpd.
Not just looting but also sabotaging the enemy’s oil
The Islamists’ lack of technical skills for running the fields poses a great risk of damage to infrastructure.
Nonetheless, they are raking in $10 million to $15 million a day in black market oil revenues – some say as much as $20 – depending on fluctuations in production.
And so John Cantlie’s estimate of “billions of dollars in the bank” is not far-fetched.
But not satisfied with their net gains from the pirated oil fields, ISIS has turned to attacking the resources of its targeted enemies to deprive them of revenue. This tactic is integrated in their Middle East war strategy and highlights the critical importance they attach to oil as a prime strategic and financial asset.
The attack in Qatif was aimed at disrupting the Saudi oilfields by getting at its Shiite workforce.
In Iraq, they are starting fires at the important oil refineries in Baiji.
In central and eastern Libya, Islamists affiliated with ISIS have moved from pillaging facilities to sabotaging them and destroying the oil cargoes destined for export. They are focusing on the fields run as joint ventures with Western companies.
The Middle East as the world’s primary source of oil is under Islamist terrorist assault.
Pillaging Afghanistan’s uranium and precious stones
ISIS has extended its looting-cum-sabotage drive to Afghanistan. Almost unnoticed in the West, the Islamists are moving in on the northern and western provinces, their path smoothed by spending lucre looted from the Middle East on bribing local tribes, militias and villages to pledge their loyalty to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and fight the Taliban under his black flag.
In 2010, Afghanistan was estimated to have one trillion dollars worth of untapped mineral deposits. Since then, the US has been sinking $40 million dollars a year in developing these resources, calculating their potential yield for the struggling country as worth app. $2 billion a year.
The two provinces ISIS has targeted were chosen for their promise of rich pickings: Faryab on the border of Turkmenistan, for its wealth of untapped uranium, gas, oil, salt, alabaster and marble; Farah province in the west, for its abundant natural gas, crude oil, precious and semiprecious stones, salt and sulfur.
Selling these treasures on the black market would further bloat ISIS’s ill-gotten fortune.