The video in Kobani
As the Islamic State continues its deadly rampage across the Middle East, fears are growing that the group may have another weapon in its arsenal: cocaine.
Video footage obtained by VICE purports to show a large stash of cocaine found inside the home of ISIS leader Emir Abu Zahra in Kobane, along with a knife and a laptop.
The organization also reports allegations that leaders dished drugs out to militants for courage, while Kurdish fighters tell of finding pills, capsules and syringes on dead ISIS militants.
The video remains unverified; however, it comes following reports in November last year that billions of dollars worth of cocaine is smuggled to Europe each year along routes controlled by terrorist groups that have pledged support to the Islamic State.
The profits have been used to fund armored vehicles, missiles and guns, according to the International Business Times.
Meanwhile, Spanish intelligence sources said jihadist groups including ISIS are using drugs to finance their quest in Iraq and Syria, using knowledge of smuggling routes to export arms and drugs including cocaine, heroin and hashish.
Around one-fifth of those detained in Spain under terrorism laws have previously served prison time for drug trafficking or creating counterfeit documents, intelligence reports.
Monash University’s director of the Center for Islam and the Modern World, Professor Greg Barton, said it’s difficult to know to what degree the Islamic State is involved in the drug trade, though the group has been ruthless in exploiting opportunities to make money such as kidnapping for ransom and seizing control of oilfields.
“We know they are involved in a range of illegal business and we know they have no compunction about what they’re involved in,” he said.
“We do know they’re involved in weapons, smuggling, oil. The question of drugs would largely be a question of opportunity and what drugs are available.”
Barton said reports suggest the Islamic State has daily cash flows in excess of $2 million, but exactly how much of that is garnered through the drug trade is unclear.
“It’s much less clear what production and transport levels they control. It’s a different dynamic to the Taliban, who controlled considerable opium production and distribution.”
The extremist group’s influence has been rapidly expanding since mid-2014, and it now controls large parts of northern Iraq and Syria, home to 8 million people. It also controls large parts of the border between Turkey and Syria and traditional smuggling routes along with it, Barton said.
“That border has for a long time been a source of smuggling and contraband routes. Now that [ISIS] controls that territory, it’s not surprising whatever was going on in the past is now under their control. It’s reasonable to assume there are some sort of flows going through, but I don’t know the mechanics of it.”
While drug smuggling might be at odds with Islamic State ideology, experts agree it’s a case of the end justifying the means for militants.
The Quilliam Foundation’s Haras Rafiq told Newsweek that smuggling is part of ISIS “heritage” under al Qaeda.
“Smuggling drugs, arms, even alcohol is considered forbidden in Islam, so the way ISIS excuse it is they see they are fighting a greater jihad,” Rafiq told the organization.
“In times of war, they believe more is permitted to achieve their goals.”
Barton agrees the basic logic used by militants is that they are in a complex situation and the “rules of war apply.”
“The ethical dimensions and moral questions are summarily dismissed,” he said.
“It is obviously paradoxical, but hypocrisy is not a problem [ISIS] is burdened by … The overwhelming issue is that they recruit on the basis of idealism, but everything they do is at odds with what they believe.”
The professor said that while he hadn’t heard of specific cases, it’s also possible that drugs are used as a tactic by leaders to indoctrinate militants, as has been seen in West Asia, Pakistan and Afghanistan in the past.
“If you’re trying to reprogram the mind and sensibilities of young men … apart from the atmosphere of indoctrination, camaraderie and the adrenalin rush of a conflict zone … one would expect the practical element,” he said