Even ISIS Needs a Bank

The Islamic State is hoping to establish its legitimacy by making its own money, budgets, and welfare system.

Bullit Marquez/AP/The Atlantic

What does the world's "richest terrorist organization" do with its growing revenue, a reported $250 million surplus, and a delusional-yet-existential need to establish some international legitimacy? How about start a bank? Or, perhaps, pay some salaries or provide money for charity?

Even as the American-led coalition continues to conduct airstrikes against the group, the Islamic State may be following the examples set by other terrorist organizations in attempting to mimic the operations of a real government. In an interview with London's al-Araby al-Jadeed (grain of salt here), a tribal leader based in Mosul⎯a major Iraqi city that ISIS took control of last summer⎯said that the group has set up a bank there. The report added that ISIS has also delivered a $2-billion budget that includes basic services like education, construction, and welfare for the poor and disabled.

While any news out of Mosul is difficult to confirm, if the group has actually managed to form a bank, it would mirror a paradigm set by the Taliban, which established itself as a brutal ruling regime in Afghanistan, despite the fact that its leadership wasn't universally embraced. Imran Khan notes the comparison for Al Jazeera:

Both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia had recognized that [Taliban] government and set up consulates ‎for the group in both countries. Pakistan and the Saudis had provided assistance to the Taliban government which helped the group gain legitimacy, albeit limited, internationally.

The founding of an ISIS bank would be an extension of earlier efforts to govern that, as Aaron Zelin detailed back in June, have included the forging of a consumer protection office as well as "social services, religious lectures, and da’wa (proselytizing) to local populations." In November, the group announced its intentions to mint its own currency.