Islamic State Use Drug Trade to Bankroll Their Jihad, Says Spanish Intelligence

A masked man speaking in what is believed to be a North American accent in a video that Islamic State militants released in September 2014 is pictured in this still frame from video obtained by Reuters October 7, 2014. FBI/Handout via Reuters/Reuters

European cells of Islamic State and other jihadist groups are using their ties to the illicit drug trade to finance their operations in Iraq and Syria, Spanish intelligence told daily newspaper ABC today.

According to Spanish intelligence sources, jihadists in the country rely on knowledge of drug smuggling routes to export arms, contraband and new recruits from the EU to Iraq and Syria, while a recent crackdown on legal fundraising for terrorist organisations has lead to an increased trade of illegal arms and drugs such as "cocaine, heroin and hashish".

Speaking to Newsweek, Haras Rafiq of the anti-radicalization think tank the Quilliam Foundation says illicit trade "is in Islamic State's heritage".

"When you look at Al-Qaeda, which Islamic State took over from in Iraq, they used to smuggle heroin and diamonds," Rafiq says.

"Islamic State have seized many assets since the summer, however they definitely made heavy use of illicit trade tactics before and it is probably quite difficult to stop," he added.

According to reports from Spain's recently established government intelligence and counter-terrorism unit CITCO, 20% percent of those detained in Spain under suspicion of working with Islamic State and other jihadist groups have previously served prison sentences for offences such as drug trafficking or document counterfeiting.

"Smuggling drugs, arms, even alcohol is considered forbidden in Islam so the way ISIS excuse it is they see they are fighting a greater jihad," Rafiq says.

"In times of war they believe more is permitted to achieve their goals."

Most of the cocaine destined for Europe, including the UK, has crossed the Atlantic by ship and entered via Spain, according the UK's National Crime Agency.

Reports vary on the total amassed wealth at Islamic State's disposal, however it is widely reported the group has around $2 billion in assets including oil revenue and profit from trade on the black market.