The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced that four financial facilitators working for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and ISIS-Mozambique (ISIS-M) have been designated. These money men, based in South Africa, are integral in facilitating the transfer of funds from ISIS’s financial networks to its branches across the African continent.
Treasury asserted that these “key ISIS supporters” have been exploiting South Africa’s financial system to bankroll ISIS insurgent and terrorist networks across Africa. Treasury also states that ISIS has attempted to expand its presence in Africa, relying on “local fundraising schemes” such as extortion, theft, and kidnapping as well as financial support from the “ISIS hierarchy.”
The four individuals listed within Treasury’s designation were identified as: Farhad Hoomer, Siraj Miller, Abdella Hussein Abadigga and Peter Charles Mbaga.
Hoomer, who reportedly leads an ISIS cell based in Durban, South Africa, has “recruited and trained cell members” while raising funds through “kidnap-for-ransom operations and extortion of major businesses,” according to Treasury.
In 2018, South African authorities arrested Hoomer for a plot to detonate incendiary devices near a mosque and various commercial buildings in Durban. However, in 2020, he and the other 11 suspects were released as the case against them was struck off the roll – though it is clear from Treasury’s designation Hoomer continues to be involved in illicit activity in support of ISIS.
Treasury’s statement indicated that Hoomer was in direct contact with members of the ISIS cell in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (ISIS-DRC), locally known as the Allied Democratic Forces, and provided “residential properties and vehicles” to support operational activities in South Africa.
Treasury also designated Siraj Miller. In the designation, Treasury decscribed Miller as the leader of an ISIS cell in Cape Town, South Africa, who trained militants in conducting robberies to raise funds for the group.
Islamic State-linked individuals have conducted several robberies and kidnappings-for-ransom to support ISIS operations elsewhere. For instance, in 2018, two suspected ISIS supporters in Johannesburg kidnapped a British couple, also using their credit cards to purchase electronic and communications equipment.
Another suspected ISIS cell in Kliprivier, a town outside of Johannesburg, was also linked to “terrorism, murder, attempted murder, extortion and arson.” Hoomer, the man sanctioned yesterday by Treasury, has been accused by South African officials of leading that cell.
Another individual sanctioned, Abdella Hussein Abadigga, was described as reportedly controlling “two mosques in South Africa,” using this position to extort money from the local community and recruit young South African men for ISIS training camps.
He was also reportedly a key conduit for ISIS financing throughout southern and eastern Africa, sending funds from his mosque to other ISIS branches via the hawala payment system. Treasury notes his close relationship to the ISIS branch in Somalia, which has also been linked to ISIS operatives in South Africa.
The last person designated, Peter Charles Mbaga, was sanctioned for securing weapons and funds for ISIS fighters in northern Mozambique, funneling supplies from South Africa to the Cabo Delgado-based jihadist insurgency.
The four individuals listed fit the recent pattern of ISIS-affiliates inside Africa engaging in crime to fund the organization’s activities across the continent. For instance, in Somalia, businesses in Mogadishu’s infamous Bakara Market closed after ISIS extorted shop owners. These businesses already had to pay some form of taxes to both the Somali government and Al Shabaab; however, ISIS joined in the extortion of Somalia’s largest market to bolster funding.
Additionally, in 2018, ISIS-Somalia began collecting “taxes” from businesses in Bosaso, an urban center in Puntland, using similar extortion rackets. According to Puntland security officials, ISIS collected $72,000 a month through these taxes in Bosaso, which it used to fuel its operations within Somalia and across the continent. Furthermore, in 2016, Treasury sanctioned Islamic State financier Mire Ali used a livestock trading business as a front to support ISIS cells in the Bari region of Somalia.
The ISIS insurgency in northern Mozambique is likewise also mired in the regional illicit economies and activities, giving more weight to Treasury’s recent sanctions combatting the global jihadist group’s African financial conduits.
These three cases demonstrate that the four newly-sanctioned South African ISIS financial facilitators have been following the Islamic State’s standard practices for making money in Africa.