WASHINGTON: The U.S. government announced sanctions Tuesday against 25 people and five groups connected to the Islamic State, disclosing intelligence that depicts a sprawling international organization with tentacles across Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
The moves by the Treasury and State departments are aimed at disrupting the activities of Islamic State financial, logistical and recruiting operatives who may not be suitable targets of American bombs or drone strikes. Many of them reside outside the theaters of war in Iraq and Syria.
The sanctions, the largest such effort against the Islamic State, also serve to demonstrate how far and wide the group’s ideology has spread.
The State Department designated as foreign terrorist organizations Islamic State regional spin-offs in Russia’s Caucasus region, Algeria, Indonesia and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Among the individuals designated as terrorists was Sally Jones, a British native and the widow of an operative killed recently in an American drone strike.
The State Department also designated as terrorists three French nationals and a Russian. Russia, France and other countries cooperated with the U.S. in supplying information that contributed to the sanctions, officials said.
The Treasury Department, meanwhile, slapped financial sanctions on Islamic State officials who operate in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen and Tunisia. Among the individuals it sanctioned in Syria was British national Aqsa Mahmood, who is accused of recruiting three British schoolgirls in February to flee the United Kingdom to become wives of Islamic State fighters. She is believed to be in Syria.
Previously, Treasury had sanctioned just four Islamic State officials, one of whom was killed in a U.S. drone strike in June.
Some of those sanctioned by Treasury are also expected to be placed Tuesday on the United Nations’ al-Qaida Sanctions List, officials said in a news release.
The announcement came before a meeting between President Barack Obama and other world leaders on countering the Islamic State on the margins of the U.N. General Assembly meetings in New York.
The financial sanctions are designed to make it harder for the Islamic State to use its immense wealth, Daniel Glaser, Treasury’s assistant secretary for terrorist financing, said in an interview.
“These sanctions will prevent them from engaging in financial transactions and make it harder for them to travel,” he said.
Financial institutions around the world tend to honor U.S. sanctions, he said. The State Department designations mean that anyone who supports the individuals or groups can be prosecuted under U.S. law.
Much of the Islamic State’s income is generated internally, Glaser said, from oil sales, taxation and extortion, so sanctions can’t cut that off. Instead, they are meant “so that they can’t get supplies, parts, things that you need to run a state, things that you need to engage in a war,” he said.
Given the extensive smuggling networks across the region, it’s unclear how effective the sanctions will be in doing that.
In July, Glaser said the Islamic State is clearing as much as $500 million per year from oil sales, more than enough to meet a payroll he estimated at a high of $360 million a year.
The public announcement of sanctions, which draws on intelligence gathered by the CIA and other agencies, offers a window into insights the U.S. has garnered about the Islamic State.
Notably, the U.S. believes al-Qaida and the Islamic State have been working together on a tactical level, despite official hostility to one another.
Yemeni national Mu’tassim Yahya ‘Ali al-Rumaysh, for example, is described by Treasury as “a financial and foreign fighter facilitator” for the Islamic State “who also has held membership in al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).”
He helped an Islamic State member procure funds for the travel of foreign fighters from Yemen to Syria transiting Turkey, Treasury said in a news release, coordinating AQAP and the Syrian al-Qaida affiliate, the Nusra Front, to facilitate the travel of Islamic State members.
In November 2013, al-Rumaysh sent a group of Yemeni extremists to Turkey, Treasury said, and they made their way to an AQAP facilitator in Syria.