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Making Money in the Islamic State

Making Money in the Islamic State features thirty-three-year-old Syrian, ISIS commander Abu Said who was interviewed in November 2015 in southern Turkey by Anne Speckhard and Ahmet S. Yayla.It was produced and edited by Zack Baddorf and our ICSVE team. This counter narrative highlights the corrupt trading and relationship between Bashar Assad’s government and ISIS.

In Making Money in the Islamic State, Abu Said talks about how ISIS sold oil to Bashar Assad’s government, facts that have now been well documented. While those living under ISIS were going hungry, Abu Said refers to the sale of grain to the Syrian regime as well and their lack of preparation for planting season.

He also raises questions about how it could be that the Syrian officers abandoned their soldiers to cope with no leadership while ISIS was advancing, and that no one destroyed the Syrian weapons, despite the easy possibility of doing so—allowing ISIS to get hold of many heavy weapons.

Abu Said points out the hypocrisy of ISIS making deals with the Syrian regime while accusing individuals who have any dealings with it as infidels and beheading them.  He claims that the two are working together. The reality may not be so direct, but clearly each benefited from the other.

Discussion Questions:

What do you feel watching this video?

Do you believe Abu Said is who he says he is and is telling the truth about his experiences inside ISIS?

What do you think of ISIS selling oil to the Syrian regime?

How could ISIS sell wheat to its enemies when those under them were starving?

Do you think the Syrian regime was supporting ISIS?

Do you this ISIS worked for the Syrians?  Or that the two simply benefited from occasional corrupt inter-dealings?

Timed transcript of Making Money in the Islamic State video:

Making Money in the Islamic State

0:01    Regarding the oil refineries, they are ad hoc oil refineries that were manufactured locally.

0:09     Local [Syrians] used them [to refine oil for personal use].

0:14     They weren’t for ISIS.

0:16     But the [Western] coalition forces hit the refineries instead of the oil rigs.

0:22     Abu Said

Former ISIS Commander

Why didn’t they hit the oil rigs?

0:23     Abu Said

Former ISIS Commander

When you hit the oil rigs, you break the back of both ISIS and the [Syrian] regime,

0:29     because ISIS is opening up the main pipelines to the regime, sending them natural gas and oil.

0:32     That’s the reality.

0:36     So ISIS is opening the pipelines to the [Syrian] regime and the regime is paying [ISIS] for the oil.

0:42     For example, in the areas under ISIS’s control,

0:44     a tank of natural gas costs 4,000 Syrian lira.

0:46    In the areas under regime control, it costs 900 Syrian lira.

0:48     You’ve got to be clever and understand that ISIS is sending oil to the regime on a daily basis.

0:58     Everyday, they send them oil and bill them for it.

1:03     ISIS lets the regime get away with things, and the regime lets ISIS get away with things.

1:06     ISIS is making deals with the regime, selling them wheat for 16 Syrian lira per kilo.

1:12     Wheat is brought from [ISIS-held] al Hasakah to [regime-held] Tartus—guarded [during transport]!

1:17     [ISIS] claims the regime [people] are infidels.

1:23     So how come you can deal with them—government to government?

1;25     When someone like me deals with the regime, I’m an apostate and an infidel. 1:28     But ISIS has the right to deal with the regime.

1:32     By the way, when the regime wants to give territory to ISIS, they put on theatrics.

1:41     For example, [the regime’s] Unit 93 in Ein Isa, is a battalion unit. It has more than 50 artillery units.

1:50     They [ISIS] were able to take it in one night. By morning, it was done.

1:55     They captured 700-800 hundred soldiers. It really was like a theater show. 2:02  Where were all the [regime] officers? Where were the officers in charge of the unit?

2:08     They all disappeared. Vanished.

2:11     You see soldiers with no officers.  How would they fight? Of course they won’t fight.

2:16     When someone asks me about ISIS’s weapons, I start laughing.

2:26     What’s happening is that [regime] military units are retreating and leaving their weapons behind.

2:31     They could have burned them. But, no, they leave them and retreat.

2:38     For example, [ISIS’s]al Maylabiya unit in al Hasakah found missile launchers 2:43       that were left behind unused. Not a single rocket fired.

2:47     What can you conclude from this? You can conclude that it is support!

2:56     Some naïve people will say, ‘Those are spoils of war.’

3:02     I would say, ‘Yes, spoils of war, but why didn’t they burn them up?’

3:07     They could have burned them. Why didn’t they?

3:10     Ask yourself that. Couldn’t they just throw a grenade in there?

3:19     It means the [Syrian] regime is supporting ISIS

3:23     [and] ISIS really works for the regime.


Anne Speckhard, Ph.D., is Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) and serves as an Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine. She has interviewed over 600 terrorists, their family members and supporters in various parts of the world including in Western Europe, the Balkans, Central Asia, the Former Soviet Union and the Middle East. In the past two years, she and ICSVE staff have been collecting interviews (n=81) with ISIS defectors, returnees and prisoners, studying their trajectories into and out of terrorism, their experiences inside ISIS, as well as developing the Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative Project materials from these interviews. She has also been training key stakeholders in law enforcement, intelligence, educators, and other countering violent extremism professionals on the use of counter-narrative messaging materials produced by ICSVE both locally and internationally as well as studying the use of children as violent actors by groups such as ISIS and consulting on how to rehabilitate them. In 2007, she was responsible for designing the psychological and Islamic challenge aspects of the Detainee Rehabilitation Program in Iraq to be applied to 20,000 + detainees and 800 juveniles. She is a sought after counterterrorism experts and has consulted to NATO, OSCE, foreign governments and to the U.S. Senate & House, Departments of State, Defense, Justice, Homeland Security, Health & Human Services, CIA and FBI and CNN, BBC, NPR, Fox News, MSNBC, CTV, and in Time, The New York Times, The Washington Post, London Times and many other publications. She regularly speaks and publishes on the topics of the psychology of radicalization and terrorism and is the author of several books, including Talking to Terrorists, Bride of ISIS, Undercover Jihadi and ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate. Her publications are found here: and on the ICSVE website  Follow @AnneSpeckhard

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