The U.S. Department of the Treasury designated a Turkey-based company and three Turkey-linked individuals on Monday for facilitating the Islamic State’s (IS’) financial networks and transactions. The new designations – the fifth set since April 2019 targeting a Turkey-based jihadist network – expose the extent to which radical Islamists thrive in the permissive environment Ankara has cultivated.
Monday’s designations by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control sanctioned two Iraqi brothers, Idris al-Fay and Ibrahim al-Fay, and their Turkey-based Al-Fay Company as well as Syrian national Alaa Khanfurah, who ran a Turkey-based money services business. While Al-Fay Company facilitated the global distribution of currency on behalf of IS and acted as an intermediary between foreign donors and IS – including IS members located in an internally displaced persons camp in northeastern Syria – Khanfurah’s business transferred funds to IS members in Syria and facilitated financial transfers between senior IS leaders.
This round of sanctions follows designations issued in April, September, and November of 2019, all of which demonstrate Washington’s heightened vigilance against IS financial networks operating within the borders of an increasingly adversarial NATO member state. Over the course of the Syrian civil war, Turkey’s Islamist government, led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has turned a blind eye to various jihadist groups exploiting Turkey’s porous border.
Brett McGurk, the former U.S. special envoy for the international coalition against IS, who now serves as the National Security Council coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, has repeatedly highlighted Ankara’s problematic role as a partner. In a Foreign Affairs piece he penned in April 2019, McGurk wrote, “Turkey refused coalition requests to close border crossings in towns that had become logistical hubs for ISIS, such as Tal Abyad—even after U.S. diplomats had told the Turks that if they did not control their border, defeating ISIS would be impossible.” Six months later, in a Washington Post op-ed, McGurk pointed out, “Most of the nearly 40,000 foreign fighters that flooded Syria during its civil war came through Turkey into northwestern Syria.”
Treasury’s Office of Inspector General has also highlighted Turkey as a permissive jurisdiction, reporting in January that IS often relies on “logistical hubs in Turkey” to transfer funds internationally, especially between Iraq and Syria. The report stated that IS continues to raise funds through “extortion of oil smuggling networks in eastern Syria, kidnapping for ransom targeting civilian businesses and populations, looting, and possibly the operation of front companies” and has “as much as $100 million available in cash reserves dispersed across the region.”
In his statement announcing Treasury’s sanctions against Turkey-linked IS financiers, Secretary of State Antony Blinken emphasized that the U.S. government “remain[s] committed to denying ISIS the revenue it needs to carry out its terrorist and criminal activities, as well as preventing the resurgence of the group.” To that end, the Biden administration should urge Ankara to adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward terror finance and to end its permissive policies and lenient treatment of jihadist networks within Turkey. Since 2019, Washington has designated numerous Turkey-based entities and individuals affiliated not only with IS, but also with a wide range of other jihadist organizations, including al-Qaeda, Hamas, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, and Harakat Sawa’d Misr. Treasury should keep up the pressure by continuing to issue sanctions against the entire range of Turkey-based and Turkey-linked jihadist financiers.
Aykan Erdemir is a former member of the Turkish parliament and senior director of the Turkey Program at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where he also contributes to FDD’s Center on Economic and Financial Power (CEFP). For more analysis from Aykan, the Turkey Program, and CEFP, please subscribe HERE. Follow Aykan on Twitter @aykan_erdemir. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_CEFP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.