Why is ISIS urging its supporters to carry out robberies?
Yesterday saw the release of the 11th issue of ‘Rumiyah’. The monthly IS publication, is distributed in a variety of languages including English, French, Russian and German, reaching out to a scattered global following. In the past, it has included many calls for attacks in the West, and detailed a monthly roll call of successful operations.
It often seeks to provide inspiration for those willing to carry out a violent attack in their home country. Many previous issues of the online magazine have attempted to brainstorm ideas in the hopes that a reader will put them into action.
Suggestions in the past have included posting fake ads on Craigslist and luring people to their deaths in apartments. These small scale and very low tech plots are easy to carry out, and the organisation is well aware of the media hype and attention that accompanies these relatively small acts of violence, once it is assumed ISIS are responsible of course.
Yesterdays issues main article was entitled “The ruling on Ghanima, Fay, and Ihtitab”. “Ghanima” is the Arabic word meaning “spoils of war”. Following successful attacks on the battlefield, IS media often post images or videos of ghanima, showing off their war booty. Enemy Kalashnikov’s are arranged stacked against the wall along with captured RPG’s and ammunition.
More significantly, a substantial amount of the organisations revenue came from the selling of these spoils of war. The large amount of territory the group captured had gifted them a vast amount of wealth in the form of vehicles, generators, and other goods that they were then able to sell.
The group has a history of benefiting from this loot, and has made several official rulings on the matter. However, while these concepts exist within the so called Islamic State and its various Wilayats, discussing the theft of wealth in the West is relatively new.
This most recent release of Rumiyah is the second time that the group has explicitly called for followers to steal from the ‘kuffar’ in the West.
“And it is a must on every muwahhid to expand the scope of his jihad to include waging war on the kuffar’s wealth — for the war on wealth and economies represents the largest of the arenas of jihad — as was done by the Prophet in many raids, where he would take the wealth of the kuffar and destroy their property. And there is no doubt that the kuffar today use their wealth to mobilize their armies and their capabilities, so it is upon the muwahhidin to discover and conceive new methods of weakening the kuffar’s economies and taking or destroying their wealth. And it is upon the Muslims — specifically those who reside in dar al-kufr and cannot find a way to make hijrah — to do what Abu Basir did to the mushrikin of Makkah. And there is no doubt that exhausting the wealth of the kuffar today has a major impact on our war with them”
The calls for economic sabotage claim it is permissible to also kidnap the children of ‘kuffar’ in order to attain their property and wealth. It is also stated that the granting of visas does not constitute protection, from a host to a guest, and that spilling blood or robbing from one’s host is acceptable.
The argument for these actions in which theft is turned into a weapon, are backed up by selected religious texts and rulings, in order to frame it as just.
This isn’t the first time that jihadists have attempted to target the economies of the West. Osama Bin Laden once campaigned to boycott American goods, even using Ghandi and his non violent campaign as an example in his struggle against the British Empire. This move by IS however, is unique in the sense that it uses the “leaderless jihad” model to carry out such actions against the economy.
However, if robberies were to be carried out by IS followers ten times the scale that terror attacks have been carried out, the effect on the economy would still be extremely minimal. Therefore it is a ridiculous strategy considering IS just doesn’t have the support base required in the West to carry out such a campaign. Especially considering the fact that they frame it with the expectation of it having an effect on the coalitions campaign against them in Iraq and Syria.
Another theory as to why these calls are now trending in IS publications, is that as the Caliphate is slowly eroded away and the group is chased back into the desert, they are seeking out another revenue stream. With reports that IS fighters in Afghanistan on the payroll of ISIS are being told they will soon need to be self sufficient, it could be somewhat reasonable to assume they are laying down the groundwork for a new strategy.
This again doesn’t seem realistic. How money robbed from an Armored car in the US or Europe could go into the groups coffers is unknown, as there isn’t exactly a ‘gofundme’ page for ISIS.
The other possible motive is for the funding of attacks, or to pay for travel expenses to join IS in one of it’s various global wilayats.
Even sophisticated IS terror attacks such as the Paris attacks in 2015, are relatively cheap. With some estimates putting the total cost at only $10,000. This is nothing but pennies to an organisation as wealthy as IS. As the majority of attacks are also carried out by lone actors in self formed cells or as individuals, it is hard to see how significant funds are required. The renting or hijacking of a truck, or the acquiring of materials needed for a bomb are not exactly expensive endeavours requiring a large amount of money.
Other IS propagandists and recruiters such as the British foreign fighter, Omar Hussein, had justified thefts in order to fund flight tickets to Turkey, in order to travel to Syria in the past. In some of his earlier writings he had proposed attacking and robbing drunk ‘kuffar’ when they were walking home alone after a night out, arguing the consumption of alcohol would make them more vulnerable.
Either way, the strategy seems to be fairly misguided and ineffective. It is indeed entirely plausible that the media wing is getting desperate and wants to see as much chaos as possible in the West. Even if it only is very low level stuff.
Insurgent and Terrorist organizations have often carried out robberies in an attempt to fund themselves, such as ETA, the Red Army Faction or the Provisional IRA. Considering the current model of IS, it is incredibly difficult to see how the group could incorporate a strategy like this.
Time will tell if anyone will take up the challenge to carry out a robbery in the name of IS. It wouldn’t be the first time their calls were totally ignored in the West.