Airstrikes target oil refineries in Syria held by Islamic extremists
Making the first major push to choke off financing for Islamic State, U.S. and allied Arab warplanes bombed a dozen small oil refineries in eastern Syria on Wednesday that U.S. officials said were part of a $2 million-a-day revenue stream for the Sunni Muslim extremist group.
The Obama administration also named 11 individuals and one supposed charity as global terrorists, accusing them of recruiting foreign fighters, shipping weapons and raising millions of dollars for Islamic State and several affiliated groups.
The moves came as the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution focused on preventing and disrupting financial activities of foreign terrorists and hindering their efforts to travel across borders.
The air assault on the remote oil facilities marked a further escalation of the bombing campaign launched early Tuesday by the United States and five Arab partners. U.S. officials say they are determined to disrupt the money flow that has made Islamic State, also known by the acronyms ISIS and ISIL, the world’s wealthiest terrorist group.
U.S. warplanes and drones, as well as warplanes from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, took part in the latest attack, the Pentagon said.
“We are still assessing the outcome of the attack on the refineries, but have initial indications that the strikes were successful,” U.S. Central Command said in a statement. “These small-scale refineries provided fuel to run ISIL operations, money to finance their continued attacks … and an economic asset to support their future operations.”
The statement said the facilities produced 300 to 500 barrels of refined petroleum per day. Experts say the Islamic State relies on oil smuggling as a key source of revenue for its military operations. The group also raises money from robberies, ransoms, extortion and taxing local communities.
The Treasury Department designations are intended to hinder efforts by supporters abroad from funneling money to Islamic State and three other Sunni extremist groups in Syria: Al Nusra Front, Al Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah.
The goal is to stop their ability “to raise, transport and access funds that facilitate foreign terrorist fighters,” said David S. Cohen, undersecretary of Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence.
The department’s announcement provided new details about the top command of Islamic State, which controls large swaths of northern Iraq and eastern Syria. It also named fundraisers for Al Qaeda franchises in Yemen, Pakistan and Syria.
Tarkhan Batirashvili, a 28-year-old ethnic Chechen, was identified as northern commander for Islamic State in Syria and a senior advisor to the self-proclaimed Islamic caliph, Abu Bakr Baghdadi. In that role, he supervised a prison in the eastern Syria town of Tabqa that apparently held foreign captives, including two Americans who were beheaded in recent weeks.
Tariq Harzi, a 32-year-old Tunisian, was identified as the “emir of suicide bombers,” running a pipeline of zealots willing drive vehicles packed with explosives into Iraqi and Syrian government installations.
Harzi is also accused of helping Europeans, including British and Danish citizens, join the group. In mid-2013, he ordered operatives to plan an attack on U.N. officials in Lebanon, the Treasury statement said. He also arranged for $2 million to be sent to Islamic State from a “financial facilitator” in Qatar “who required that Harzi use the funds for military purposes only.”
Six other individuals are accused of helping to funnel money to Al Qaeda’s operations, including Al Nusra Front, in Syria.
A Jordanian on the list was said to have delivered thousands of dollars to Muhsin Fadhli in 2011. Fadhli, who was then the head of Al Qaeda’s network in Iran, is now the leader of the Khorasan group, an Al Qaeda cell in Syria that U.S. officials said is focused on attacking American and European targets.
Fadhli was a target of the first volley of U.S. airstrikes launched in Syria Tuesday morning. U.S. intelligence officials don’t know if he was killed.
Three additional individuals were listed for reportedly helping to raise funds and send fighters to Syria on behalf of Jemmah Islamiyah, a Southeast-Asia-based terrorist group linked to Al Qaeda. The Hilal Ahmar Society Indonesia, a humanitarian charity with ties to Jemmah Islamiyah, was also listed for reportedly using charitable funds to support violent acts.
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