Turkey’s Middle Eastern borders have always been porous and prone to smuggling and clandestine crossings. After the Syrian turmoil broke out in 2011, long-standing smuggling routes became supply channels for armed rebels, including the Islamic State (IS).
Having lost control on the ground, IS may be unable to use the smuggling routes as before, but its cross-border dealings are far from over.
IS members, it turns out, have resorted to traditional methods of money transfer via exchange offices and jewelry companies they have set up in Syria and Turkey, called al-Haram, al-Hebo, al-Khalidi and Saksouk. On Sept. 19, the Turkish police detained 22 suspects accused of running transnational money-transfer networks for ISIS in simultaneous raids on 37 locations in eight provinces across the country.
The police operation, which focused on al-Haram in particular, followed the US Treasury’s Sept. 10 announcement of counterterrorism sanctions on al-Haram, al-Khalidi, al-Hebo, Saksouk and individuals associated with those entities.
Al-Haram was set up as a company dealing in foreign exchange, trade and transport. It has opened branches in big Turkish cities such as Istanbul, Mersin, Gaziantep, Bursa, Sanliurfa, Antalya, Ankara, Izmir, Konya and Kayseri, as well as five districts in Hatay province, which borders Syria. The company has affiliates in Jordan, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories and Sudan.