US designates members of Rawi network for financing Islamic State

The US Treasury Department announced yesterday that it has designated six members of the Rawi Network, as well as a female Islamic State facilitator based in Kenya.

The Rawi Network’s members are key money men for the Islamic State. The US military and its allies have targeted Rawi personnel in Iraq and Syria. And intelligence from these raids helped inform Treasury’s latest designations.

The US killed Fawaz Muhammad Jubayr al-Rawi, a Syrian who helped lead the network and served as an Islamic State “finance emir,” in a June 2017 airstrike in Abu Kamal, Syria. The US and Iraqi governments had begun clamping down on his businesses months earlier. Fawaz rose to prominence within the Islamic State after he swore allegiance (or bayat) to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2014. Fawaz’s loyalty gave the self-declared caliphate access to his extensive web of businesses, which provided crucial money laundering and exchange services.

Months after Fawaz’s death, in Oct. 2018, the US-led coalition launched a series of raids on the Rawi Network in Baghdad and Erbil, Iraq. The raids were carried out in conjunction with both the Government of Iraq and the Kurdish Regional Government. The busts led to Treasury’s designation of Afaq Dubai, a money services business that helped moved funds for Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s caliphate.

And now, months later, Treasury has identified and sanctioned six other members of the Rawi Network, providing granular details about how their sprawling operation works.

Treasury’s latest designations also demonstrate, once again, how important Turkish soil is for the Islamic State’s operations. The Rawi Network has businesses and senior personnel in Turkey. Others mentioned in the designation announcement include a “Turkey-based merchant,” a “Turkey-based individual” who specializes in “large-sum hawala transfers from the Gulf,” and a “Turkey-based ISIS financial facilitator.”

The Rawi Network extends into other countries, including in Europe. But Treasury’s announcement points to more nodes in Turkey than any other country.

This raises additional questions about the Turkish government’s willingness to crack down on vital Islamic State finance and facilitation networks. In 2017, the Treasury Department said that another jihadist, Salim Mustafa Muhammad al-Mansur, had relocated to Turkey after serving as the Islamic State’s “finance emir” in Mosul, Iraq. Other facilitators in Turkey have been officially sanctioned as well.

While the Islamic State’s facilitation and finance networks are occasionally disrupted by Turkish authorities, Treasury’s designations indicate the depth of the problem — an issue that is apparently still a concern for the US and its allies.

Rawi Network founded to help Saddam Hussein evade sanctions

Treasury’s designations provide additional information about the history of the Rawi Network and its evolution.

The Rawi Network originally facilitated Saddam Hussein’s illicit financing. Its “[s]enior members” began helping Saddam “evade sanctions during the early 1990s.” According to Treasury, Saddam used various Iraqi money service businesses, “including those owned by the Rawi Network, to avoid using the formal banking sector to buy and sell oil.”

Years after Saddam’s fall, the Rawi Network became a core financial network for the Islamic State. Treasury provides captured documentation and other details to demonstrate the importance of the operation. For instance, the deputy commander of the Islamic State’s oil department sent between $300,000 and $400,000 to one of the Rawis “on a regular basis,” so it could be laundered via gold transactions.

A current leader of the eponymous network is Mushtaq Talib Zughayr al-Rawi (“Mushtaq”), who was formerly a captain in Saddam’s Republican Guards.

Mushtaq and his brother, Walid Talib Zughayr al-Rawi (Walid), were both designated. They got into the money exchange business after Iraqi oil exports were sanctioned in the early 1990s. Mushtaq took control of the Rawi money-laundering business in 2018. He relies upon his son, brothers (including Walid), and other family members to make sure the so-called caliphate’s cash keeps moving. Treasury says Walid is “purportedly the brains behind the finance operation.”

The US government provides remarkable details concerning the Rawi brothers’ international business enterprise.

Mushtaq himself is based in Belgium. He and his family moved to the European country in 2018. It is not clear how he has been able to operate in the country, which has been struck by Islamic State loyalists in the past.

Mushtaq owns “money exchange shops in Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Sudan, and the Gulf.” And from his Belgian perch, he oversees a complex web of businesses and individuals that includes “various commercial establishments in Iraq, hawalas in Iraq and Turkey, unidentified individuals in the Gulf, and an unidentified West Bank-based charity.” These entities and individuals “generate, launder, and move cash into Iraq and Syria on behalf of ISIS.”

The Rawi family serves as Islamic State money managers

Abd-al-Rahman ‘Ali Husayn al-Ahmad al-Rawi (Abd-al-Rahman), based in Istanbul, Turkey, is another one of the network’s bigwigs. He, too, has been designated as a terrorist.

Abd-al-Rahman “was so influential within ISIS that he had the capacity to reduce a death sentence into a short prison term,” according to Treasury. The US government describes him as the Islamic State’s “general financial manager.”

Along with his cousin, Umar Talib Zughayr al-Rawi (Umar), who has also been designated, Abd-al-Rahman began managing the “financial affairs” for the Islamic State’s Wilayah al-Furat (or Furat province) in 2017, after the aforementioned Fawaz al-Rawi was killed in an airstrike.

Fawaz served as one of the Islamic State’s key global money managers, moving cash and gold in and out of the group’s territory and arranging for foreign fighters to receive their salaries.

Abd-al-Rahman and Umar apparently assumed at least some of Fawaz’s responsibilities upon his death. The two jihadists handle “large sums of money arriving from abroad” and then distribute the proceeds across the Islamic State’s Iraq and Syrian provinces. In addition, Abd-al-Rahman has been “responsible for external ISIS money transfer[s] originating from and destined to foreign countries.”

The parasitic nature of the Islamic State’s financial operations becomes clear in a key fact cited by Treasury. The Rawi Network acquired QiCard machines after registering “several businesses” with the Government of Iraq (GOI). These same machines are used by the GOI “to disburse payments to government employees and retirees.”

The Rawi men have leveraged this same electronic payment system “to launder funds for ISIS inside and outside of Iraq.” Mushtaq “owns at least three QiCard businesses,” two of which are in western Iraq and the third in Turkey. Even as Abd-al-Rahman and Umar handled the jihadists’ money they “distributed Iraqi retirees’ salaries from the GOI via” the same electronic payment system.

Still another newly-designated member of the Rawi Network, Muhannad Mushtaq Talib Zughayr al-Rawi (Muhannad), moved to Samsun, Turkey in 2017. Muhannad had previously lived in Baghdad, but he moved to Turkey “to work with Mushtaq.” This was before Mushtaq himself departed for Belgium. Muhannad has moved Mushtaq’s money to a gold exchange in the Gulf, with a “specific” unnamed “gold seller” being the main recipient.

The sixth and final newly-designated member of the Rawi Network, Muhammad Abd-al-Qadir Mutni Assaf al-Rawi (Muhammad), has also moved money to gold shops in the Gulf on behalf of Mushtaq.

Kenya-based facilitator also designated

In addition to the Rawi Network members, the US Treasury Department also designated Halima Adan Ali (Halima) as a terrorist. Halima, an Islamic State facilitator based in Kenya, worked for Waleed Ahmaed Zein. In Sept. 2018, Treasury designated Zein, saying he established a “financial facilitation network spanning Europe, the Middle East, the Americas and Eastern Africa.”

Halima helped Zein fund Islamic State fighters in Central Africa, Libya, and Syria. In 2017 and 2018, according to Treasury, she “received large sums of money from around the world, mostly through hawala systems,” to pass along to Baghdadi’s loyalists.

Prior to working for Zein’s Islamic State network, Halima was a supporter of Shabaab, al Qaeda’s branch in Somalia. Treasury says she planned to travel from East Africa to the Islamic State’s strongholds in Syria in 2014. However, Halima was arrested for her pro-Shabaab activism. After one of Zein’s family members secured Halima’s release, she began working for the so-called caliphate.

Both Zein and Halima are in Kenyan custody, as they were arrested in July 2018.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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