The war against the ISIS escalates, with attention focused on the battlefield. ISIS represents a new model for terrorism that includes issuing Annual Reports and the use of social media technology. The differences between ISIS and al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups are its multi-faceted financial resources and its close resemblance to a business operation.

As such, the anti-ISIS coalition must move beyond the standard tactics of yesteryear – doing what has always been done will not work in this global war. The key to defeating these horrific militants is to recognize it for what it is – a terrorist organization operating as a criminal enterprise. Once that is done, the focus will shift to attacking the business model of ISIS.

Following the money trail, both backwards to the sources and forwards to all those that touch the movement of funds is the job for forensic accountants and a proven tactic. As in any chain of commerce, there will be many beneficiaries. All are potential “aiders and abettors.”

The movement of money around the world by terrorist networks and their money movers is the same as what was done by Charles Taylor, former President of the Republic of Liberia.  Taylor’s conviction for war crimes was in large part the result of “aiding and abetting” as he operated as a business to fund his war crimes. This was my focus (co-author Thomas Creal) as a Panel Expert for the United Nations, which took me to the British Virgin Islands to uncover his shell companies, to the People’s Republic of China for his “pepper bush” timber companies and to Citibank in New York for the Liberian government accounts.

The same needs to be done against ISIS, immediately starting with the transporters of the oil. Through aerial pictures of trucks the company names are known as are the beneficiaries. These are “aiders and abettors.” As part of Task Force 2010 in Afghanistan, our focus was the Host Nation Trucking vendors. I (Creal) was the forensic accounting expert that dug deep into the finances, traced the fast movement of large sums of money using Hawaladars, and then through banks around the world. One of these wartime entrepreneurs was making $34 million USD per year while “aiding and abetting” the Taliban.

Once we attacked his money, he changed teams and provided information then used for military operations. Thus, what was once a liability became an asset.

The fight against ISIS must include a financial ops effort and should immediately focus on the transporters moving oil on the main road from Baiji to Mosul and then north on the Jihadist Highway from Mosul. Baiji is a major industrial center and houses the biggest oil refinery in Iraq plus a large power plant. From aerial photos, we can obtain the transporter names, work with the anti-ISIS coalition members to gather all financial information, develop the financial links and prepare actionable steps that can attack the money supply lines of ISIS.

Secondly, ISIS uses Twitter to raise funds to support their acts of terrorism. The Twitter accounts can be found, the money raised through social media can be tracked and the data points along the movement of the monies can be identified and dried up. One example is Hajjaj bin Fahd al-Ajmi. He raises money via Twitter and funds ISIS and the al-Nusrah Front from his base in Kuwait, but the funds raised move through weapon dealers, suppliers, hawalas, money carriers or through trade routes.

The third focus, still following the concept of “aiders and abettors,” is the banks, money service providers, money movers and all other resting places of the tainted money. This is not reserved for ISIS alone, but the net should be far reaching and include: weapon dealers, fuel suppliers, warlords, and anyone connected to the financial resources, as either a source or a recipient of the ill-gotten monies.

Charles Taylor was the war criminal, but Viktor Bout was the weapons dealer. Bout had millions of dollars flowing through his accounts in the Isle of Man, Switzerland and South Africa, along with his associates. He now sits in prison as a criminal and all assets are frozen per the United Nations. He was an aider and abettor of Taylor. The only shortfall was the actual repatriation of his wealth and that of his associates back to the victim country.

The coalition could institute the same task force format and establish a financial command center to coordinate the attack on those providing, moving, and holding cash for ISIS, including banks and others assisting ISIS. The anti-ISIS coalition partners backed by international organizations can quickly provide the financial visibility that can severely challenge ISIS financial activities all around the world.

Not just an asset freeze. As a business operation, we should be seeking civil forfeiture action to seize the funds, by the appropriate jurisdiction and yes, repatriate the funds. One warlord in Afghanistan lost $63 million USD by being an “aider and abettor.”
All of this will require leadership. The center of gravity should be in the Middle East. Not Washington, London, or New York. The heart and soul of the war against this new terrorism must be a global attack on the terrorism chain of commerce. 
With the conflict spreading – lives are still being lost in Iraq, on the borders of Turkey and Lebanon, and fear is spreading globally. The United States has talked of a long regional conflict. The Middle East faces a threat to its very existence and the whole world is watching. With support from the Anti-ISIS Coalition and the United Nations victory is obtainable plus the potential return of billions of dollars.

Fawaz is chief executive of the Raddington Group, an international risk management firm. Creal is a former United Nations panel expert for asset tracing and an international expert in financial investigations for asset recovery.