The World’s 10 Richest Terrorist Organizations

Times of Lion, 22/06/2019,International

Money is what fuels any organization, whether its purpose is building homes, selling goods – or conducting horrific violent acts. A terror organization, just like any legitimate business, needs capital to survive. Quick cash is used to finance general activities, pay salaries for activists, develop training camps, purchase weapons and destructive materials, and provide transportation and much more.

But unlike legitimate businesses, terror enterprises cannot rely on loans or issuing stocks or bonds to fund their activities. Instead, they shift their financial efforts to underground operations, above and around the financial laws of the economic world.

Here is a list of some of the world’s wealthiest – and most dangerous – terrorist organizations and how they make their money. The list was created by Forbes Israel based on interviews with security experts and counter-terror specialists, as well as reports and analysis from international NGOs, academic and government organizations, and think-tanks. It brings to light estimated numbers behind the top ten wealthiest terrorist organizations from the State Department list of Designated Foreign Terrorist organizations.

Reporting by Itai Zehorai of Forbes Israel.


Annual turnover: $2 billion

Main funding sources: oil trade, kidnapping and ransom, collection of protection and taxes, bank robberies and looting.

Goal: the establishment of an Islamic State in Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine, the Muslim holy war against the infidels, Crusaders (i.e. Christians) and the Jews


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ISIS is the richest terror organization the world has known. Its annual turnover amounts to around $2 billion, and some analyst estimate the number to be $3 billion.

So how did this small al-Qaeda facilitated group become a huge financial corporation in such a short time? The answer, as in many cases in the Middle East, is oil, and a lot of it. By occupying vast areas of Iraq and Syria, ISIS also took control of many oil and gas fields. According to expert estimates, ISIS currently controls 60% of oil reserves in Syria, and was able to get its hand on the seven major oil and gas reserves in Iraq, including the country’s largest oil refinery. Using an oil smuggling system developed over years of sanctions against Saddam Hussein, ISIS now sells tens of thousands of barrels every day on the black market. Although this oil is sold at 40% to 75% less than the market price, ISIS still pockets around $3 million every day—more than a billion dollars a year. And that’s just from oil.

Another Prominent capital source is looting. During every occupation, activists loot everything in their path – from banks and armories, food and supplies to the museums and ancient sites. The Syrian city of Al-fought, for example, was looted and antiquities dating back 8,000 years – worth $63 million – were stolen. An especially famous robbery took place at the Central Bank of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, during which they plundered half a billion dollars in cash and gold.

Other means of raising capital is kidnapping foreigners and collecting ransom. It is estimated that over the past year, various governments paid a total of approximately $ 125 million to release citizens kidnapped by the organization.

Today the Islamic State controls about a third of Iraq’s territory and about a quarter of Syria, covering about 200 thousand square kilometers – more than half of the territory of Germany.

Besides the energy reserves, ISIS took over extensive agricultural areas, which are important sources of food and water, as well as factories, power plants, dams and other strategic facilities. For example, Tabqa dam on the banks of the Euphrates, Syria’s biggest dam, which provides electricity to the city of Aleppo, also provides a steady cash stream to ISIS. Lake Assad, the largest water reservoir in the country, has also fallen into ISIS hands. The organization also has extensive areas in the five most productive agricultural counties in Iraq, responsible for about 40% of the wheat and various kinds of grain in the country. Experts estimate that in total, ISIS control 30% of the domestic agricultural market.

However, the organization is yet to fully exploit its economic potential. ISIS gains more ground, but also loses ground during its battles. In the territories under its control it has not established an organized system of tax collection and utilization, and therefore does not use its resources to make financial gains. Establishing an efficient system will increase ISIS’s financial capabilities even more.

2. Hamas

Annual turnover: $1 billion

Region: West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Main funding sources: taxes and fees, financial aid and donations (especially Qatar).

Purpose: militant struggle against the state of Israel and the establishment of a Palestinian Islamic state from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River

Hamas’s militant coup and its taking over of the Gaza strip, back in 2007, ushered this organization into the big league.

as cigarettes and gasoline, and licensing fees for cars, motorcycles and even carts. Taxes that once went to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah now go to Hamas.

Contrary to common belief, Hamas does not make money from the smuggling tunnels underneath the Egyptian border. Those were dried out quite effectively by the army of Egypt’s General al-Sisi. The donations from Qatar and Iran are also as not as significant as they used to be. Hamas makes most of it money from a sophisticated tax system, aimed at, among other things, pocketing large portions of the international aid that flows into Gaza. For example, Hamas taxes money changers that convert foreign currency to shekels, and gains tens of millions by doing so.

In addition, Hamas runs hundreds of businesses which control a variety of areas – from real estate, insurance, banking, hotels and tourism, to fish farms and banquet halls. Conducting its business, Hamas uses various Mafia methods to maximize its income. For example, after purchasing a banquet hall – a lucrative business in Gaza – a string of miss-fortunes befell Hamas’s competition. Hamas also took over several banks, and everyone that wishes to do business with the government in Gaza need to certify they are working with the right bank.

Hamas’s total income from taxes, fees and duties, and from the businesses it runs – both directly and through straw men – is estimated at half a billion dollars. Hamas also enjoys private donations from businesses and organizations all over the world. Hamas’s principal backer in recent years is Qatar, which donates hundreds of millions of dollars to the organization annually.


Annual turnover – $ 600 million.

Region: Colombia.

Main funding sources: drug production and drug trafficking, kidnapping and ransom, mining of minerals (especially gold), fees and taxes.

Purpose: elimination of the capitalist regime and the establishment of a Marxist-socialist welfare

FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia), is an underground Marxist and anti-imperialist activist and a key player in the bloody struggle that’s ravaged Columbia for more than 50 years.

Although it lost some of its power in recent years, due to a series of assassination and arrests of senior activists, it is still considered the largest underground organization and strongest in Colombia. At the same time it is also a significant political player and the government has negotiated with FARC for years, hoping to end the bloody conflict. The organization currently controls approximately 30% of the territory of Colombia, especially in the jungles of the south-east of the country, where it directs one of the largest drug trafficking networks in the world. A special report by the US Department of Justice estimated that the production and trade network established by FARC is responsible for more than 50% of the global cocaine trade, and that 60% of the cocaine smuggled from Colombia to the United States comes from the organization’s drug laboratories. In total, according to estimates, FARC generates about $500 million a year from drug deals alone.

Another way in which the Colombian guerrilla organization finances its activities is kidnapping and ransom collection, mainly of wealthy businessmen and public figures (a tactic applied for political purposes). In 2008 Amnesty International estimated that about 700 people are held captive by the organization. Other estimates put the number of people who were abducted by FARC between 1997 to 2007 at 6,800.

FARC is also involved in the illegal mining of minerals (mainly gold), the collection of taxes and transfer fees and protection money – with a total turnover estimated at tens of millions of dollars annually.

4. Hezbollah

Annual turnover: $500 million

Region: Lebanon

Main sources of income: financial assistance and donations (especially Iran), production and trafficking of drugs

Purpose: militant struggle against the state of Israel and establishing an Islamic state in Lebanon

Established as a militant group fighting for the Shi’ite population in Lebanon and against Israel, Hezbollah, like Hamas, has a strong political arm that became one of the major powers in Lebanon. Hezbollah has a network of nursing institutes, which provides relief, welfare, education and livelihood to large segments of the Shi’ite population in need.

Over the years, Hezbollah became a dominant factor in southern Lebanon, the ongoing effect is the creation of a state within a state, a major force in national politics, and a key component in the government and military force.

Hezbollah’s main sponsor is the Iranian regime, which donates an estimated $250 million a year to the organization. But Hezbollah made sure to diversify its sources of capital – from donations of private businessmen, through fundraising by charities in disguise, spread all over the world, to the real estate and tourism. However, the highlight of Hezbollah’s business portfolio is undoubtedly its organized criminal activity, and the jewel is a network of drug manufacturers and smugglers built and refined over the years. Hezbollah is involved in criminal activities around the world, from South America through Africa, Europe, the Far East, Australia and the Middle East. Its cells are involved in money laundering, counterfeiting, arms trade, smuggling and of course the production and trade of drugs, especially heroin and cocaine. Despite denials, senior DEA agents presented evidence linking the drug trafficking organization of Argentina-Brazil-Paraguay to a radical Islamist group led by Hezbollah.

Hezbollah’s drug activities in South America began in the early 80′s, and gained significant momentum in recent years. With the help of local Lebanese Shiite expatriates, and close cooperation with local cartels, the small “side-business” has grown hugely, and become professional and efficient. What was a relatively minor source of income swelled to huge proportions over the years and it is now estimated that the organization generates hundreds of millions of dollars a year from this operation. Experts had recently estimated that Hezbollah will soon generate more money from its drug activities than from all of its other income sources put together, including the hundreds of millions of dollars deposited in its account every year courtesy of Ali H’minai of Iran.

5. Taliban

Annual turnover – $ 400 million

Region: Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Main funding sources: drug trafficking (mainly production of opium and heroin), sponsorship fees and taxes, financial assistance and donations.

Goal: the establishment of an Islamic theocracy in Afghanistan

The Taliban is a militant political movement that ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 and applied the rule of Sunni Islamic Sharia law. A Pashtun (the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan) fundamentalist organization, which gained popularity despite allegations of corruption and discrimination by the government, deposed in September 1996. Immediately after taking over the country, it declared the rule of Sharia law, and enforced it brutally, targeting women: girls remained imprisoned in their homes and were not allowed to go to school, women were forbidden to study, and were forced to wear burqas. Those accused of adultery were taken to the main square or Municipal Stadium and shot. It was also strictly forbidden to play music or watch TV, and men whose beards were too short were flogged. Even before the attack on the Twin Towers the Taliban were accused of providing refuge and support to Al Qaeda.

The US invasion of the country following 9/11 put an end to the Taliban’s regime. The organization’s leadership fled to the Tora Bora Mountains, on the border with Pakistan, where they found refuge and began to rebuild

But it seems the Taliban’s chief, Mohammed Omar, is responsible for one of the world’s most impressive military and financial recoveries. The fundamentalist organization, which seemed crushed and eliminated by the most powerful military in the world, regained its footing, and is now leading the insurgency against US forces and NATO, spreading rapidly throughout the country, while challenging and embarrassing the US administration. This recovery would never have been possible were it not for the sophisticated underground financial system that was built to finance the Taliban’s activities.

Since its loss of power (and all sources of capital) in 2001, the Taliban built a huge drug production and trafficking network. This network produces hundreds of millions of dollars annually, and made Afghanistan the world’s largest opium exporter. The Taliban itself does not grow the opium or produce the drugs. These tasks are left to farmers, drug manufacturers and smugglers. But every link in this huge drug chain pay the Taliban for “the protection and support”, that allow them to conduct their business freely. These payments, according to pentagon officials and the UN, amount to 100-300 million dollars a year.

In light of the strenuous activity of Western intelligence organizations to eliminate the organization’s sources of funding, the Taliban is careful to diversify. Raising funds from Arab countries in the Middle East has always remained a safe and effective way to do this, and according to a leaked confidential report by the CIA, revenue from donations can reach up to 100 million a year. In addition, the Taliban imposes fees and taxes from crop farmers and at various checkpoints under his control.

6. Al-Qaeda

Annual turnover: $ 150 million.

Main sources of finance: financial assistance and donations, kidnapping, ransom and drug trafficking.

Purpose: global jihad against the Christians and Jews and the formulation of a unified Islamic front against Western-secular forces

Al-Qaeda is one of the most lethal terror organizations, and brought about a profound change in the Western’s world attitude to Islam.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, Osama bin Laden, the brains behind the terrorist network and son to one of Saudi Arabia’s wealthiest families, was not the major benefactor in the establishment of the organization. With the assistance of the Taliban, who provided him shelter and basic support, Bin Laden – cleverly utilizing his extensive network of contacts among elites in Saudi Arabia and the Emirates – managed to raise huge sums of money, mainly through private donations from Saudi businessmen.

Through Islamist organizations, charities, mosques, religious institutions, websites and even banks and other financial institutions, Bin Laden raised tens of millions of dollars to finance Al-Qaeda. Just before 9/11 the CIA estimated the annual capital flow to al Qaeda to be about $ 30 million.

After the spectacular attack on US soil and the declaration of war, income dwindled significantly and funding sources have dried up almost completely.

The organization that patented the idea of global jihad and global terrorism, it built itself a tremendous reputation around the world for its murderous actions. Al-Qaeda took advantage of its “brand” and reputation, and soon incorporated under its wings dozens of terrorist groups.

According to the US Bureau of Counterterrorism, al-Qaeda has a number of main branches, that coordinate their activities with the central headquarters based in Pakistan-Afghanistan: al-Qaeda Maghreb (Algeria, Morocco, Libya, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Chad ), al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (Yemen and Saudi Arabia) and Al-Qaeda in Iraq (ISIS being its previous incarnation, that left the mother-organization) and Syria (Jabhat al-Nocera). In addition, al-Qaeda is working in close cooperation and mutual sharing of intelligence, money, weapons and personnel, with dozens of terrorist organizations all over the world.

Al-Qaeda today is a decentralized body, low in financial resources, with only partial control over its subsidiaries. The leaders of al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan receive funding directly from its affiliates, especially al-Qaeda in the Maghreb, considered the richest among the branches. This branch has enjoyed good cash flow since the coup in Libya. Kidnapping and ransom are its most lucrative enterprise, generating tens of millions of dollars. A network of close contacts with local tribes and its strategic control of large areas of West Africa have made it a major player on the drug trade routes from Latin America to Europe.

7. Lashkar-e-Taiba

Annual turnover: $ 100 million.

Region: Pakistan and India.

Main sources of finance: financial assistance and donations.

Purpose: immediate release of Kashmir India and integration with Pakistani Kashmir under Islamic rule

Lashkar-e-Taiba, “army of the righteous” to its followers, is a Pakistani radical Islamic terror group, considered to be one of the dominant groups in Southeast Asia. Its goal is to free Indian Kashmir, and integrates with Pakistani Kashmir under Islamic rule, while applying the Sharia law and establishing a caliphate. Although militant activity today is concentrated mainly in the State of Jammu-Kashmir in northern India, the organization’s global ambition, as it declares, is the destruction of the Indian Republic and the complete elimination of Hindus, Christians and Jews – “the greatest enemies of Islam”.

Founded as the military wing of the “Markaz al-Dawa” – an Islamic missionary organization that worked against the Soviet presence in Afghanistan – its focus shifted with the withdrawal of the soviet army to terrorist activity against military and civilian targets in Indian Kashmir. Despite Pakistan’s denials, analysts and intelligence experts confirm that one of the main supporters of the organization during the 1990s was the ISI intelligence agency of Pakistan, which provided training, weapons and funding probably in order to exploit the organization to apply effective pressure on the Indian government. With the signing of the ceasefire between India and Pakistan, the group – which strongly opposes the deal – initiated a series of terrorist attacks in order to undermine the fragile agreement between the two nuclear powers.

Under heavy American pressure, Pakistan banned the group, confiscated its assets, and persecuted its activists and leaders. Leaders were arrested, only to be released a short time later.

Despite intensive activity against it (at least outwardly), Lashkar-e-Taiba is able to continue its operation and raise money, estimated at tens of millions of dollars a year. According to the US State Department, Lashkar-e-Taiba is funded heavily by Pakistani expatriates, mainly from communities in the Gulf States and the United Kingdom, by businessmen and tycoons, Indian mafia and other terror groups. In addition, the group controls millions of dollars flowing to funds and charities that operate under the nursing wing of the organization. Some experts still maintain that Pakistani government officials are still funding the “army of the righteous”.