Washington: A coalition air strike killed an Islamic State finance chief in Iraq last month, the US military said Thursday, hailing it as another scalp in its bid to shatter the extremists’ financial network.
Abu Saleh was killed in late November, US military spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said in a videoconference from Baghdad, calling him “one of the most senior and experienced members” of the group’s financial system.
“Abu Saleh was the third member of the finance network that we have killed” recently, Warren added, likening him to a finance minister for the extremist group, which has grabbed swathes of Iraq and Syria in a brutal offensive of beheadings and forced religious conversions.
Abu Saleh was killed along with two associates as part of the US-led coalition’s campaign to destroy the extremists’ financial infrastructure, said Brett McGurk, Washington’s envoy for the anti-IS fight, on Twitter.
Real name Muwaffaq Mustafa Muhammad al-Karmush, Abu Saleh is described on the US State Department’s terrorist blacklist as a 42-year-old Iraqi.
“Killing him and his predecessors exhausts the knowledge and talent needed to coordinate funding within the organization,” Warren said, adding that two other men pivotal in IS fundraising networks also were killed in coalition air strikes in Iraq in late November.
They were identified as Abu Mariam, an enforcer and senior leader in the IS group’s extortion networks, and Abu Waqman al-Tunis, who Warren said coordinated the group’s transfer of people, weapons and information.
Abu Mariam appears on the State Department terrorist list as Mounir Ben Dhaou Ben Brahim Ben Helal, a 32-year-old Tunisian.
“These strikes are an example of how we are able to decimate networks,” Warren said.
The coalition has been targeting IS leaders in Syria and Iraq with air strikes to try to pick apart its command structure.
After the attacks in Paris last month, the United States said it was deploying a special-operations unit in Iraq that will be able to mount raids into Syria to capture or kill IS leaders.
“We want this expeditionary targeting force to make ISIL and its leaders wonder when they go to bed at night: who’s going to be coming in the window,” US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told a Senate hearing.
Black-market oil sales
In London, the US Treasury’s acting undersecretary for terrorism and financial crimes, Adam Szubin, said the IS group derives most of its funding from economic activity in the territory it controls, where it has declared a caliphate.
It has reaped more than $500 million in black-market oil sales, looted bank vaults captured in Iraq and Syria, and raised millions more through extortion.
But to run what amounts to a mini-state, it needs steady and renewable sources of funding, and to do that it needs access to the international financial system to move money and import supplies, according to Szubin.
“We are targeting both of these dependencies — ISIL’s ability to generate revenue and its ability to use that revenue,” he said in a speech to the Chatham House think tank.
“Most recently, the coalition launched a military campaign — Tidal Wave 2 — which included precision strikes against ISIL’s key energy assets: oil fields, refineries, and tanker trucks.
“We believe these air strikes are markedly degrading one of ISIL’s most important sources of funding,” he said.