“Kulfa Sultaniyya”: Islamic State’s new tax in eastern Syria
Enab Baladi – Khaled al-Jeratli
Since early September, Islamic State (IS) cells in Deir Ezzor have relied on fundraising operations from merchants and residents of northeastern Syria, an area controlled by the international coalition-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
IS groups are sending private messages through the WhatsApp application to some people in the villages of the northern countryside of Deir Ezzor, demanding payments as Zakat for the organization, or what it currently calls “royal cost” (Kulfa Sultaniyya).
This situation has recently escalated, according to residents and activists contacted by Enab Baladi, and it targets civilians and capital owners under threats of punishment for those who refuse to pay.
Under the heading “royal cost”
Since early September, Islamic State (IS) groups have informed traders and civilians in the northern and eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor via text messages or paper posters bearing the organization’s seal and signature about the obligation to pay Zakat.
IS warnings also targeted employees of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) (the political umbrella of the SDF), threatening them with death if they did not cease to work for AANES or to contribute to the Zakat.
Activist Obada al-Furati, a resident of the northern countryside of Deir Ezzor, told Enab Baladi that the phenomenon of fundraising is not a new one. However, the pace has risen over the past period, although there have been many SDF security campaigns against these cells in the region.
At the same time, a number of people in the region tried to exploit this phenomenon to blackmail some people and obtain financial gains under the name of the IS organization by threatening SDF employees in the area through paper posters, making it difficult to identify those behind these royalties, according to al-Furati.
The director of the Naher Media platform interested in reporting on the eastern region of Syria, Abdul Salam al-Hassan, told Enab Baladi that these royalties were imposed by the organization under the name “royal cost” (Kulfa Sultaniyya) instead of the name Zakat that the organization used to call the fundraising process during the period of its control over the region.
The use of such designation is due to the fact that the IS organization no longer controls actual areas in Syria, so Zakat may not be collected in the absence of actual control.
The researcher in jihadist groups’ affairs, Pr. Abdul Rahman al-Hajj told Enab Baladi that the organization’s efforts to survive were continuing, and fundraising in that way was one of its sources of funding.
With regard to the possible application of this mechanism in the Syrian Badia, al-Hajj added that Syria’s Badia represents an “appropriate environment” for the existence of the IS organization because control over it is difficult, in addition to the organization having a history of living in it while most of its leaders come from a tribal background, which is the trait of the social environment in the Syrian Badia.
Source of funding?
In mid-September, IS issued an audio speech by its official spokesman, Abu Omar al-Muhajir, in which he sent numerous messages, but he also called on his supporters to endorse the organization with men and money.
The messages sent by the organization through the publication centered on its demand for “Muslims to join the (Islamic State),” and it singled out the residents of Syria and Iraq as they were witnesses to their rule in the region.
The British analyst specializing in terrorism and national security issues, Kyle Orton, considered that collecting Zakat or extortion was not new to the organization, as the region had already seen the application of such a policy when it was under its control. IS may be seeking to demonstrate its presence in the region in one form or another through such procedures.
However, what is most worrying today about the escalation of the IS organization’s movements is its ability to set up “temporary” checkpoints in areas of eastern Syria and north of Baghdad, which is more complicated and suggests a degree of infiltration and control that is much greater, according to Orton.
While, as previously, the organization’s funding remains “mostly local” through “taxation” of residents of the areas where it is concentrated, as well as through captured resources.
On the other hand, Orton added that IS has always been able to adapt and has even been involved in other funding sources, such as cryptocurrencies (Bitcoin, to name a few).
The researcher added that, despite how catastrophic the IS defeat in 2017 was, it still sees these setbacks as just a stage on its way to victory.
On the practical level, the political and security conditions in Syria and Iraq are very beneficial for the organization, especially in eastern Syria, where the terrain is of great help, in addition to the disputed internal borders between the coalition-backed SDF and the regime that has Russian and Iranian support.
For his part, Pr. Abdul Rahman al-Hajj said that, although oil constituted one of the organization’s most important financial returns during the era of declaring its “caliphate” until its fall, taxes, and Zakat remained the mainstay of its resources before and after the declaration of the “caliphate” and after its fall.
He noted that the organization’s core funding experience is based on “self-financing” via taxes and Zakat, unlike al-Qaeda, which adopts traditional methods based on “funding networks that depend on donations.”
The night the “caliphate” fell
In 2017, the military forces competed against the Islamic State (IS) in the areas of northeastern Syria. The region witnessed a race between the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Russian- and Iranian-backed Syrian regime forces to control as many IS-held areas as possible.
In February 2019, SDF managed to control the town of al-Baghouz, the last IS stronghold in Syria, coinciding with a huge decline in its forces in Iraq in favor of military allies backed by the International Coalition Forces (ICF).
In the meantime, SDF, like the Syrian regime, continues to face several challenges in extending its full sovereignty over the region, occasionally launching security campaigns to arrest wanted persons in the region with the assistance of the international coalition.
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