The news: Terrorist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) seized Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, on Monday. On Tuesday, they took Tikrit, the hometown of Saddam Hussein. Now the group, which was officially disowned by al-Qaida in February, is the wealthiest terrorist force ever.
After storming Mosul, shutting down the airports, freeing thousands of prisoners and displacing 500,000 residents, ISIS robbed Mosul's central bank on Wednesday, making off with around $425 million.
The money, along with a large quantity of gold bullion, will likely be used to "buy a whole lot of jihad," regional analyst Brown Moses said. "For example, with $425 million, ISIS could pay 60,000 fighters around $600 a month for a year."
In comparison, according to Money Jihad data from 2011, the Taliban reportedly had a budget of $70 to $400 million. Hezbollah had somewhere between $200 to $500 million, with $120 million of that money coming from Iran. The Colombian faction, FARC, worked with $80 to $350 million, while Hamas had $70 million. Al-Shabaab ran on around $70 to $100 million. And according to the Council on Foreign Affairs, during the time of the 9/11 attacks, al-Qaida was working with a $30 million budget.
Who are these people? ISIS is a Sunni militant group, originally an offshoot of al-Qaida, that has been progressively gaining control as a powerful jihadist movement over the past year. They currently hold power in various cities throughout northern Syrian and western Iraq.
Image Credit: The New York Times
Due to the group's vicious tactics, they were disowned by al-Qaida. In Syria, the ISIS insurgents have focused on building an Islamic state, exploiting the disarray from that country's three-year civil war. Because of this, the Syrian rebel movement and ISIS no longer see eye-to-eye.
As ISIS claims more and more territory, Iraq's Shiite-led government may not be able to mitigate the situation. After insurgents captured the Iraqi city of Falluja in January, the government waged several assaults to overthrow them and failed. Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki announced a national state emergency this week, urging the public and government "to confront this vicious attack, which will spare no Iraqi."
What happens next? American forces left Iraq in 2011 after a long and expensive eight-year war. ISIS forces are now extremely wealthy, extremely powerful and equipped with U.S.-supplied military hardware.
Politically, the biggest threat to the U.S. is that the Iraqi conflict could spill over into neighboring countries. For example, ISIS militants captured the Turkish consul along with other Turkish citizens during the Mosul siege. Since Turkey is a NATO member nation, the terrorist faction may have their sights set on expanding outside of Syria and Iraq's borders. (The Turkish foreign minister warned, "No one should try to test the limits of Turkey’s strength.")
The Obama administration has expressed concerns about the gravity of the situation in Iraq. The government is offering support, though the details of that aid are unspecified.