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US targets Islamic State financiers in Turkey, Syria, Indonesia

The US hit five individuals with economic sanctions over aiding jihadi recruits via money transfer.

The Biden administration imposed economic sanctions on five Islamic State financiers in Turkey, Syria and Indonesia on Monday night.

Members of the network played key roles in helping IS recruits join the group, and moved funds to help IS fighters obtain weapons and for children to be smuggled out of IS detention camps in Syria, the US Treasury Department said in a statement.

One member of the network, Dwi Dahlia Sustani, is accused of assisting IS members with money transfers from all three countries. Sustani helped her husband deliver nearly $4,000 and weapons to an IS leader, distributing roughly $500 of that money to fellow IS supporters, the department said.

Why it matters: The new sanctions show that despite IS’s military defeat in 2019, the group retains ardent sympathizers willing to lend assistance from abroad.

  • Supporters in more than 40 countries around the world have sent funds to IS detainees in northeast Syria, the US Treasury Department said in its press release.

  • At the al-Hol detention camp in northeast Syria, IS affiliates have obtained up to $20,000 per month via the local hawala currency transfer system. A majority of that money originated from outside Syria, according to the Treasury.

The group has continued to smuggle affiliates out of prison camps run by Kurdish-led forces in northeast Syria to Idlib (where two subsequent IS leaders were found and died during US Special Forces raids), Deir Ezzor and Raqqa provinces.

  • “ISIS is particularly focused on smuggling children out of displaced persons camps for recruitment as fighters,” with much of the latest funding having been gathered in Turkey and Indonesia, the Treasury said in Monday’s statement.

Counter-IS strategy: The sanctions came just two days before a foreign ministers’ meeting of US-led anti-IS coalition member states is to be held in Morocco’s capital.

In January, the jihadist militants staged a massive prison break at a detention facility in the northeast Syrian city of Hasakah.

  • Hundreds of imprisoned IS fighters were initially estimated to have escaped, and the ensuing fighting left some 370 jihadis and more than 150 Syrian Kurdish-led forces dead.

  • The majority of escapees were either killed or captured in street battles and house-to-house searches by Kurdish-led forces backed by the US, according to a Pentagon inspector general’s report which was published last week.

  • The group’s second leader, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, took an active role in planning the operation, US officials said at the time. Al-Qurayshi blew himself up when Delta Force operators surrounded his residence in Idlib province less than two weeks later, dealing what the Pentagon then called “a significant blow” to the jihadi group.

  • However, Qurayshi’s death has had no appreciable impact on IS’s operational capabilities, last week’s inspector general report noted. The group maintains a low-level insurgency in rural areas of Iraq and Syria.

What’s next: With few easy options, Washington’s Syria policy appears to be in a holding pattern.

  • The US announced $800 million in humanitarian aid for Syrians on Tuesday as a July deadline looms for the UN Security Council to renew cross-border aid into Syria.

  • But there’s little outward sign of a renewed diplomatic effort to resolve the indefinite detention of more than 10,000 IS fighters and more than 60,000 family members in makeshift facilities across northeast Syria, a situation which US military officials have described as unsustainable. The Biden and Trump administration have repeatedly called on foreign states to repatriate citizens interned in the camps.

  • Asked during a Senate hearing on Tuesday by US Senator Jeanne Shaheen whether his agency has a strategy to deal with radicalization among the tens of thousands of detainees, Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, the head of the Pentagon’s intelligence branch, balked.

  • “We have an intelligence collection strategy to monitor it,” replied Berrier, head of the US Defense Intelligence Agency.

Know more: Read Al-Monitor’s takeaways from the death of IS’s second leader.