The UN Security Council's Counter-Terrorism Committee has raised concerns over the “alarming” trend of terror groups profiting from natural resources, from oil to diamonds.
The committee held a special webinar highlighting the tools terror groups are using to finance their activities.
Committee director David Scharia said groups are exploiting natural resources such as oil, timber, cocoa, fish and diamonds.
“This is an important but often overlooked topic of terrorists benefiting from the trade and exploitation of natural resources,” he said.
“Despite the challenges of ascertaining the amount of profit generated for terrorist financing, evidence indicates it is a sufficient provider of regular revenue to some terrorist groups.
He gave the example of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, which worked to produce oil and natural gas, and said that cash reserves from these activities may still be available to the group.
“Cattle rustling and livestock raiding is used by [western African terror group] Boko Haram, also timber, cocoa and wildlife trafficking,” he added. “Mining of gold is increasingly an important source of income for ISIS in Africa.”
Mr Scharia called it “a truly global trend” that needs to be tackled as such.
Svetlana Martynova, the committee's senior legal officer and co-ordinator on countering the financing of terrorism, has called for more investigations into crimes.
“It is not just one country’s problem — it is a transnational problem and it needs a transnational effort to tackle it,” she said.
“This is only the start of the conversation and there is more we to explore and research in this alarming trend.
“We need to investigate crimes and we need to use new technologies to trace crimes across the supply chain. There is certainly a lot of work to do.”
Chania Lackey, regional programmes co-ordinator at the Global Centre on Co-operative Security, said ISIS has used different tactics in Libya and Syria.
“We know that terrorists seek financing which is sustainable and long term. In both Syria and Libya, terrorist organisations sought to obtain territorial control. ISIS sought to control oil and gas in both Syria and Libya,” she said.
But ISIS in Libya lacked the capacity to manage the oilfields, as there was no black market for smuggled oil, she added, and as a result, Libya was unable to obtain the same finances that came out of Syria.
“We saw exploitation of diamonds, gold, timber and fish. Not all items smuggled through Libya are from there, but it is a financial smuggling route,” Ms Lackey said.
“The way in which the terrorist organisations benefit depends on the nature of the resource and the ability of the existing infrastructure to move it.
“In Syria, they were able to control the oil and gas but not in Libya but have instead generated funds by capitalising on smuggling routes.”
The experts' comments follow the recent release of a UN terrorism financing trends report.
Hyung-keun Yoon, a terrorism finance specialist at Interpol, said the group would be sharing their knowledge with all interested governments.
“There is a lack of inner agency co-ordination,” he said.
“We will send this report to all member states and look for a more holistic and coordinated approach. It will provide a broader threat picture.”