Islamic State (ISIS) militants who beheaded American journalist James Foley in Syria this week reportedly had demanded $132.5 million in ransom for his release.
Collecting ransom payments is a principal source of funding for ISIS, according to terrorist financing expert Jimmy Gurulé, professor of law at the University of Notre Dame, who says making such a payment is a federal crime.
“ISIS and other foreign terrorist groups have raised hundreds of millions of dollars from the collection of ransom payments,” says Gurulé, also a former assistant U.S. attorney general and former undersecretary for enforcement for the U.S. Treasury Department. “Under the federal material support statute, the payment of funds to a ‘foreign terrorist organization’ is federal crime punishable by a maximum term of 15 years in prison.”
Gurulé says there is no kidnapping or humanitarian exception to this statute.
“Any payment of funds to a foreign terrorist organization, regardless of the donor’s intent, is a federal felony,” he says. “There is extraterritorial jurisdiction over the offense, which means that the material support statute applies to the payment of funds to a foreign terrorist organization that occurs outside of the United States. Foreign government officials who are paying ransom payments to ISIS are committing a federal crime. It is time for the U.S. Department of Justice to start enforcing the law and holding the financiers of ISIS accountable for their crimes."
Regardless, this method of income appears to be working.
“Despite claims by President Obama that post-bin Laden terrorist groups are the ‘JV team’ of international terrorism, it has become abundantly clear over the last several months that ISIS is larger in force, better trained and more heavily armed and well-funded than al-Qaida,” Gurulé says.
Gurulé served as an assistant federal prosecutor in Los Angeles and was appointed by President George H.W. Bush as assistant attorney general. He was appointed by President George W. Bush to serve as undersecretary for enforcement for the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
Gurulé teaches “The Law of Terrorism” at Notre Dame and is co-author of “Principles of Counter-Terrorism Law.”