The sudden rise of the well-armed, well-financed and media-savvy Isis militant group could not have come about unless unscrupulous companies and individuals slipped money to the group or did business with it, said the founders of a new, private research and advocacy group that will seek to expose such dealings and apply pressure to stop them.“They’ve taken great advantage of modern communications and modern financial techniques” to promote themselves, recruit followers and amass money and weapons, said Mark Wallace, a former Bush administration diplomat and lawyer heading the new organisation. “There’s been an absence of people operating to counter that.”
President Barack Obama and other world leaders are making the extremists, who have seized control of large areas of Iraq and Syria since May, a central theme of next week’s annual United Nations General Assembly.
The group, called the Counter Extremism Project, is modelled on United Against Nuclear Iran, the hawkish investigative and advocacy group Mr Wallace also runs. The two not-for-profit groups share some prominent advisers, including a former Bush administration Homeland Security adviser Frances Townsend and a former Obama administration diplomat Dennis Ross.
The group has compiled detailed financial information about Isis that will be released next week, Mr Wallace said.
It has begun building what it claims will be the best public database of information about extremist groups and their supporters. The information will be provided to governments as well as the private sector, media and other outlets, organisers said.
Many Western diplomats are worried about the Isis’s apparently flush bank accounts and arsenals, a senior State Department official said, off the record. Some of the weapons were seized from the fleeing Iraqi Army, but many others are presumed to be provided to the group by supporters or purchased on the black market. Isis is smuggling oil from seized facilities in northern Iraq and selling it in Turkey, the official said. Turkey has pledged to stem that lucrative traffic, as well as the flow of weapons and foreign fighters across its porous border with Syria.
Gary Samore, formerly Obama’s top adviser on arms control and weapons of mass destruction, said although it has no power of enforcement, the new group has significant leverage over terror financiers or enablers. The threat of public exposure, with the resulting damage to professional reputations or the risk of prosecution, can stop businesses from making illicit deals or lessen the chances that foreign governments will look the other way, Mr Samore said.
Separately, Tony Blair will today call for the UK to consider using ground troops in the war against Isis. In an essay for his Faith Foundation the former Prime Minister says the fight against Islamic extremism is similar to the ideological and physical battles the West fought against communism and fascism and that Britain and America needs to ally themselves with Russia and China to defeat extremist groups across the world.
But he warns that unless what he calls the “spectrum of Islamism” is taken on as well similar groups to Isis will continue to form and threaten Western interests.
His remarks come as David Cameron prepares to travel to New York for the UN General Assembly where he hopes to use the event to garner a wide alliance of international support to take on Isis in Syria and Iraq.
MPs are preparing for Parliament to be recalled – possibly as soon as Thursday to authorise UK military action against Isis.
In his essay Mr Blair says while it is “right in the immediate term to concentrate on defeating Isis” in the longer term “another Isis will quickly arise to take their place unless we go to the root of the issue and deal with this ideology wherever and however it shows itself on a coordinated global basis”.
“Revolutionary communism had many faces,” he writes. “So did fascism. But their essential ideological character played a defining part in how the history of the 20th century was written. We have to see this ideology born out of a perversion of religious faith, in the same way.”