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Funding ISIS: The Business Of Terror

By William Esposito, April Lenhard and Harrison Doyle

Since its inception in 2004, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (known in shorthand as "ISIS", or "ISIL" for Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) has grown from a minor league player to a threat greater than Al-Qaeda, in the words of the White House and Congress.

As the insurgents bounded across northern and central Iraq and eastern Syria, stories of bank heists, oil theft, and even the seizure of MiG aircraft and American weaponry inflated the image of ISIS as the wealthiest terror network in history. Among the first targets of the Obama administration's aerial campaign over Syria was an ISIS finance center. The rapid transition from apparent backbencher amateurs to well-funded professionals begs the question-how did they get this far? And, more importantly, who financed this growth?

Traditionally, terrorist and insurgent groups have financed themselves through a vast array of illicit activities, from the drug trade and human trafficking to counterfeiting and money laundering. Al-Qaeda, ISIS' forerunner, was no exception.

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