How does ISIS fund itself in order to wage and sustain the war against the West? The trade in antiquities is one of ISIS' primary sources of funding along with ransom payments and black market oil sales from seized oil fields. They fill their pockets with almost a billion dollars every year.

However the key role cigarettes play in facilitating terrorism has been inexplicably ignored. Since the dawn of terrorism, procuring finances sufficient to sustain terror operations has been a priority for terrorists, including ISIS. The illicit sale of cigarettes and other commodities by terrorist groups and their supporters has become a crucial part of their funding activities. During my time as an informant on cigarette smuggling activities into Europe, working alongside Belgium and British Customs Intelligence agencies, it was obvious that the proceeds of these smuggling operations will be used to fund other criminal activities, including terrorism.

What is also interesting to note is that the smuggling groups like to make use of Belgium, as a centre of operations, for the smuggling of cigarettes. In February of 2012 I was involved in a joint operation with Liege Customs, foiling the import of 25 million cigarettes, flown in by a chartered Boeing 747. The end destination was Ireland and the client's were members of The Real IRA quoted as being the ninth richest terror group in the world.

With recent event's in Paris, multiple subsequent raids were held in Belgium suspecting of being the country where they staged these attacks from. It might be that they wanted to be close to one of their sources of income, cigarette smuggling.

ISIS does have its own "moral army" called the Hisba, a vice patrol that ruthlessly enforces the groups belief's and regulations, including the banned use of cigarettes and alcohol.  However, these same patrols often target cigarette smugglers in the region, seizing their cars, cash and cigarette loots, only to sell it again to another buyer or use the same export routes they use for the black market oil, to sell off the cigarettes.

They are quick to show videos of how they burn and destroy cigarettes and execute smokers and smugglers but what ISIS have found out, is that they can make good money from cigarette smuggling, an additional source of income to fuel their sick caliphate.

"Cigarettes are easy to smuggle, easy to buy, and they have a pretty good return on investment" David Cid, former FBI counterterrorism agent recently said in an interview.

At the core of the problem are the high profits which rival those of narcotics and the relative cheapness of running a terror operation. One container containing approximately 10 million cigarettes will cost $100 000 to manufacture in China and can be sold in Europe for up to $2.5 million. 

Counterintelligence operations from customs and other law enforcement agencies in Europe are crucial to stop the flow of money to ISIS. I personally know a lot of them and they do a hell of a job, with limited resources.  



Barry Oberholzer

TerrorTech, 30 Wall Street, New York, NY, 10005

Born in Houston, Texas, a former professional rugby player and current CrossFit and Ironman athlete, Barry  is the founder of TerrorMate app and is a counter-terrorism and intelligence expert. Formerly Barry served as a confidential informant for Department of Homeland Security, Joint Terrorism Task Force, Belgium Customs Intelligence and HM Revenue & Customs Intelligence in the United Kingdom. 

One of his most impactful successes was in his identification of Iranian sanction busting syndicates who smuggled US manufactured aircraft and parts to Iran which led to the arrests of several prominent international businessmen. He also had numerous successes in major illicit cigarette seizures in Europe.