“Effectively, we have been financially discriminated against for a long time. By early 2014, when we did not receive the budget, we decided we need to start thinking about independent oil sales” — Ashti Hawrami, Kurdistan’s minister for natural resources
In June of 2014, the SCF Altai (an oil tanker) arrived at Ashkelon port. Hours later, the first shipment of Kurdish pipeline oil was being unloaded in Israel. “Securing the first sale of oil from its independent pipeline is crucial for the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) as it seeks greater financial independence from war-torn Iraq,” Reuters noted at the time, adding that “the new export route to the Turkish port of Ceyhan, designed to bypass Baghdad’s federal pipeline system, has created a bitter dispute over oil sale rights between the central government and the Kurds.”
A week earlier, the SCF Altai received the Kurdish oil in a ship-to-ship transfer from the The United Emblem off the coast of Malta. The United Emblem loaded the crude at Ceyhan where a pipeline connects the Turkish port to Kurdistan.
The Kurds’ move to sell crude independent of Baghdad stems from a long-running budget dispute. Without delving too far into the details, Erbil is entitled to 17% of Iraqi oil revenue and in return, the KRG is supposed to transfer some 550,000 bpd to SOMO (Iraq’s state-run oil company). Almost immediately after the deal was struck late last year, Baghdad claimed the Kurds weren’t keeping up their end of the bargain and so, only a fraction of the allocated budget was sent to Erbil during the first five months of the year.
This was simply a continuation of a protracted disagreement between Erbil and Baghdad over how much of the state’s crude revenue should flow to the KRG. For its part, Iraq has threatened to sue anyone that buys independently produced Kurdish oil. For instance, when The United Kalavrvta – which left Ceyhan last June – prepared to dock in Galveston, Texas a month later, a SOMO official told Reuters that Iraq’s foreign legal team was “watching closely the movement of the vessel and [was] ready to target any potential buyer regardless of their nationality.”
You get the idea. Erbil wants a bigger piece of the pie, Baghdad doesn’t want to give it to them, and so some time ago, the KRG decided to simply cut the Iraqi government out and export crude on its own. The dispute is ongoing.
(at an Erbil oil refinery, the Kurds stand guard)
Ok, so why are we telling you this? Recall that over the past several weeks, we’ve spent quite a bit of time documenting Islamic State’s lucrative black market oil trade. Earlier this month, Vladimir Putin detailed the scope of the operation in meetings with his G20 colleagues. “I’ve shown photos taken from space and from aircraft which clearly demonstrate the scale of the illegal trade in oil and petroleum products,” he told journalists on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Antalya. The very same day, the US destroyed some 116 ISIS oil trucks, an effort that was widely publicized in the Western media. In the two weeks since, Moscow and Washington have vaporized a combined 1,300 ISIS oil transport vehicles.
No one knows why it took the US 14 months to strike the convoys. The official line is that The Pentagon was concerned about “collateral damage”, but we doubt that’s the reason (for a detailed discussion of this, see here). Well now that the mainstream media have been forced to take a closer look at Islamic State’s main source of revenue (the group makes nearly a half billion a year in the illicit oil trade), we decided to take a closer look at exactly who is facilitating the transport of the stolen crude and where it ultimately ends up because you can be sure that the story you get from the major wires will be colored by a slavish tendency to avoid any and all “inconvenient” revelations. This is the fourth in a series of articles on the subject and we encourage you to review the first three:
- The Most Important Question About ISIS That Nobody Is Asking
- Meet The Man Who Funds ISIS: Bilal Erdogan, The Son Of Turkey’s President
- How Turkey Exports ISIS Oil To The World: The Scientific Evidence
On Friday we highlighted an academic study by George Kiourktsoglou and Dr Alec D Coutroubis who took a look at tanker rates at Ceyhan around significant oil-related events involving ISIS. Here’s what the researchers found:
In their words, “it seems that whenever the Islamic State is fighting in the vicinity of an area hosting oil assets, the 13 exports from Ceyhan promptly spike. This may be attributed to an extra boost given to crude oil smuggling with the aim of immediately generating additional funds, badly needed for the supply of ammunition and military equipment.”
Now you can begin to see the connection. Ceyhan is the port from which Kurdish oil (technically “illegal” to let Baghdad tell it) is transported, and as Kiourktsoglou and Coutroubis note, “the quantities of crude oil that are being exported to the terminal in Ceyhan exceed the mark of one million barrels per day and given that ISIS has never been able to trade daily more than 45,000 barrels of oil, it becomes evident that the detection of similar quantities of smuggled crude cannot take place through stock-accounting methods.” In other words, if ISIS oil was being shipped from Ceyhan, it would essentially be invisible.
Here’s where things get interesting. A few weeks ago, Reuters released an exclusive report detailing how Erbil hides its crude shipments from Baghdad. Here are some of the details:
Most customers were scared of touching it with Baghdad threatening to sue any buyer. Large oil companies – including Exxon Mobil and BP – have billions of dollars worth of joint projects with Baghdad.
Some buyers took tankers to Ashkelon, Israel, where it was loaded into storage facilities to be resold later to buyers in Europe. Kurdish oil was also sold offshore Malta via ship-to-ship transfers helping disguise the final buyers and thus protect them from threats from Iraqi state firm SOMO.
It was a high stakes game. A ship would dock off Malta waiting for another to arrive to take a cargo to a final destination. Sometimes two ships would be sent – one sailing off empty and another full – to complicate cargo tracking.
“Everyone suddenly became a ship tracking expert. So we had to raise our game too … But one thing was proven correct – when oil is out, it flows,” said Hawrami.
Ok, so a scheme involving ship-to-ship transfers off the coast of Malta was used to get Kurdish crude to places like Israel. “Israeli refineries and oil companies imported more than 19m barrels of Kurdish oil between the beginning of May and August 11, according to shipping data, trading sources and satellite tanker tracking,” FT reported last week. “That is the equivalent of about 77 per cent of average Israeli demand, which runs at roughly 240,000 barrels per day. More than a third of all of the northern Iraqi exports, which are shipped from Turkey’s Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, went to Israel over the period.”
At this juncture, we begin to get an idea of what’s going on here. Kurdish oil is already technically illegal and Turkey is happy to facilitate its trip to foreign buyers via Ceyhan. What better way for ISIS to get its own oil to market than by moving it through a port that already deals in suspect crude? Al-Araby al-Jadeed (a London-based media outlet owned by the Qatari Fadaat Media) claims to have obtained a wealth of information about the route to Ceyhan from an unnamed colonel in the Iraqi Intelligence Services. Here’s their account:
The information was verified by Kurdish security officials, employees at the Ibrahim Khalil border crossing between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan, and an official at one of three oil companies that deal in IS-smuggled oil.
The Iraqi colonel, who along with US investigators is working on a way to stop terrorist finance streams, told al-Araby about the stages that the smuggled oil goes through from the points of extraction in Iraqi oil fields to its destination – notably including the port of Ashdod, Israel.
“After the oil is extracted and loaded, the oil tankers leave Nineveh province and head north to the city of Zakho, 88km north of Mosul,” the colonel said. Zakho is a Kurdish city in Iraqi Kurdistan, right on the border with Turkey.
“After IS oil lorries arrive in Zakho – normally 70 to 100 of them at a time – they are met by oil smuggling mafias, a mix of Syrian and Iraqi Kurds, in addition to some Turks and Iranians,” the colonel continued.
“The person in charge of the oil shipment sells the oil to the highest bidder,” the colonel added. Competition between organised gangs has reached fever pitch, and the assassination of mafia leaders has become commonplace.
The highest bidder pays between 10 and 25 percent of the oil’s value in cash – US dollars – and the remainder is paid later, according to the colonel.
The drivers hand over their vehicles to other drivers who carry permits and papers to cross the border into Turkey with the shipment, the Iraqi intelligence officer said. The original drivers are given empty lorries to drive back to IS-controlled areas.
Once in Turkey, the lorries continue to the town of Silopi, where the oil is delivered to a person who goes by the aliases of Dr Farid, Hajji Farid and Uncle Farid.
Uncle Farid is an Israeli-Greek dual national in his fifties. He is usually accompanied by two strong-built men in a black Jeep Cherokee.
Once inside Turkey, IS oil is indistinguishable from oil sold by the Kurdistan Regional Government, as both are sold as “illegal”, “source unknown” or “unlicensed” oil.
The companies that buy the KRG oil also buy IS-smuggled oil, according to the colonel.
Now obviously that’s a remarkable degree of detail, but regardless of whether you believe in “Uncle Farid” and his black Jeep Cherokee, the main point is that there are smuggling routes into Turkey and once the oil is across the border, it might as well be Kurdish crude because after all, it’s all “illegal”, “unlicensed” product anyway, just as we said above.
Next, Al-Araby al-Jadeed says a handful of oil companies (which they decline to identify) ship the oil from the Turkish ports of Mersin, Dortyol and Ceyhan to Israel.
Here’s the alleged route:
While the graphic shows the crude going directly from Ceyhan to Ashdod, it’s worth asking whether ISIS crude is also “laundered” (as it were) through the same Malta connection utilized by those smuggling “illegal” Kurdish crude (which also ends up in Israel). We ask that because as it turns out, Bilal Erdogan owns a Maltese shipping company. “The BMZ Group, a company owned by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s son Bilal alongside other family members, has purchased two tankers in the last two months at a total cost of $36 million,” Today’s Zaman reported in September. “The tankers, which will be registered to the Oil Transportation & Shipping company in October — an affiliate of the BMZ Group set up in Malta — were previously rented to the Palmali Denizcilik company for 10 years.”
Here’s a look at recent port data from Ceyhan and Ashdod via Fleetmon.com (Malta-flagged oil vessels are highlighted).
To be sure, all of this is circumstantial and there’s all kinds of ambiguity here, but it seems entirely possible that Erdogan is knowingly trafficking in ISIS crude given what we know about Ankara’s dealings with illegal Kurdish oil. Consider this from al-Monitor:
Details of the energy deals struck between Turkey and the KRG remain sketchy amid claims that Erdogan and his close circle are financially benefiting from them. According to Tolga Tanis, the Washington correspondent for the mass circulation daily Hurriyet who investigated the claims, Powertrans, the company that was granted an exclusive license to carry and trade Kurdish oil by Erdogan’s Cabinet in 2011, is run by his son-in-law Berat Albayrak. It didn’t take long for the notoriously litigious Erdogan to file defamation charges against Tanis.
Several Iraqi Kurdish officials who refused to be identified by name confirmed that Ahmet Calik, a businessman with close ties to Erdogan, had been granted the tender to carry Kurdish oil via overland by trucks to Turkey.
In other words, Erdogan is already moving illicit crude from the KRG (with whom Ankara is friendly by the way, despite the fact that they are Kurds) via a son-in-law and in large quantities. What’s to say he isn’t moving ISIS crude via the same networks through his son Bilal? Or perhaps through his other son Burak who Today’s Zaman reminds us “also owns a fleet of ships [and] was featured in a report by the Sözcü daily in 2014 [when his] vessel Safran 1 was anchored in Israel’s port of Ashdod.” Here’s a picture circulated on social media that purports to show Bilal Erdogan with ISIS commanders (because we do try at all times to be unbiased, we should also note that the men shown below could just be three regular guys with beards with no connection to any black flag-waving desert bandits):
— Dilxaz Sofiyan (@Dilxazsofi) September 20, 2014
Russian media claims the men are “ISIS leaders who it is [thought] participated in massacres in Syria’s Homs and Rojava, the Kurdish name for Syrian Kurdistan or Western Kurdistan.”
One person who definitely thinks the Erdogans are trafficking in ISIS oil is Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi who said the following on Friday:
“All of the oil was delivered to a company that belongs to the son of Recep [Tayyip] Erdogan. This is why Turkey became anxious when Russia began delivering airstrikes against the IS infrastructure and destroyed more than 500 trucks with oil already. This really got on Erdogan and his company’s nerves. They’re importing not only oil, but wheat and historic artefacts as well.”
And then there’s Iraq’s former National Security Adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie who posted the following to his Facebook page on Saturday:
“First and foremost, the Turks help the militants sell stolen Iraqi and Syrian oil for $20 a barrel, which is half the market price.”
Meanwhile, the US is preparing for an all-out ISIS oil propaganda war. As WSJ reported on Wednesday, “the Treasury [has] accused a Syrian-born businessman, George Haswani, who his a dual Syrian-Russian citizen, of using his firm, HESCO Engineering and Construction Co., for facilitating oil trades between the Assad regime and Islamic State.” Why Assad would buy oil from a group that uses the cash at its disposal to wage war against Damascus is an open question especially when one considers that Assad’s closest allies (Russia and Iran) are major oil producers. Of course between all the shady middlemen and double dealing, there’s really no telling.
Ultimately we’ll probably never know the whole story, but what we do know (and again, most of the evidence is either circumstantial, anecdotal, of largely qualitative) seems to suggest that in addition to providing guns and money to the FSA and al-Nusra, Turkey may well be responsible for facilitating Islamic State’s $400+ million per year oil enterprise. And as for end customers, consider the following bit from Al-Araby al-Jadeed:
According to a European official at an international oil company who met with al-Araby in a Gulf capital, Israel refines the oil only “once or twice” because it does not have advanced refineries. It exports the oil to Mediterranean countries – where the oil “gains a semi-legitimate status” – for $30 to $35 a barrel.
“The oil is sold within a day or two to a number of private companies, while the majority goes to an Italian refinery owned by one of the largest shareholders in an Italian football club [name removed] where the oil is refined and used locally,” added the European oil official.
“Israel has in one way or another become the main marketer of IS oil. Without them, most IS-produced oil would have remained going between Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Even the three companies would not receive the oil if they did not have a buyer in Israel,” said the industry official.
Finally, you’ll note that this is all an effort to answer what we called “the most important question about ISIS that no one is asking” – namely, “who are the middlemen?” As we noted more than a week ago, “we do know who they may be: the same names that were quite prominent in the market in September when Glencore had its first, and certainly not last, near death experience: the Glencores, the Vitols, the Trafiguras, the Nobels, the Mercurias of the world.” Consider that, and consider what Reuters says about the trade in illicit KRG oil: “Market sources have said several trading houses including Trafigura and Vitol have dealt with Kurdish oil. Both Trafigura and Vitol declined to comment on their role in oil sales.”
Similarly, FT notes that “both Vitol and Trafigura had paid the KRG in advance for the oil, under so-called ‘pre-pay’ deals, helping Erbil to bridge its budget gaps.”
Indeed, when Kurdistan went looking for an advisor to assist in the effort to circumvent Baghdad, the KRG chose “Murtaza Lakhani, who worked for Glencore in Iraq in the 2000s, to assist finding ships.”
“He knew exactly who would and who wouldn’t deal with us. He opened the doors to us and identified willing shipping companies to work with us,” Ashti Hawrami (quoted above) said.
Indeed. And given everything said above about the commingling of illegal KRG crude and illicit ISIS oil shipments, it’s probably a foregone conclusion that these same firms are assisting in transport arrangements for Islamic State.
The Most Important Question About ISIS That Nobody Is Asking
The question of how the Islamic State funds its sprawling caliphate has been discussed in the past: we first broke down the primary driver of ISIS revenue well over a year ago, in September 2014, when we explained that “ISIS uses oil wealth to help finance its terror operations.”
Daily Signal’s Kelsey Harkness explained the breakdown as follows:
According to the Iraq Energy Institute, an independent, nonprofit policy organization focused on Iraq’s energy sector, the army of radical Islamist controls production of 30,000 barrels of oil a day in Iraq and 50,000 barrels in Syria. By selling the oil on the black market at a discounted price of $40 per barrel (compared to about $93 per barrel in the free market), ISIS takes in $3.2 million a day.
The oil revenue, which amounts to nearly $100 million each month, allows ISIS to fund its military and terrorist attacks — and to attract more recruits from around the world, including America.
Most importantly, we added that to be successful in counter terrorism efforts, “the U.S. and its allies must “push the Islamic State out of the oil fields it has captured and disrupt its ability to smuggle the oil to foreign markets.”
None of this was surprising to anyone, but what was quite surprising is that it took the allied forces over a year to take the oil revenue threat seriously and begin targeting the Islamic State’s oil infrastructure in earnest.
Today, in an article titled “Why US Efforts to Cut Off Islamic State’s Funds Have Failed” Bloomberg tries to explain just how it is that despite a more than a year long campaign, ISIS funding remains as strong as ever, and notes that “the latest round of airstrikes are directly related to the administration’s new math. “You have to go after the oil, and you have to do it in a serious way, and we’ve just begun to do that now,” citing Benjamin Bahney, an international policy analyst at the Rand Corp., a U.S. Department of Defense-funded think tank.
To be sure, there are other sources of revenue: Bloomberg correctly notes that “even if the U.S. finally weakens the group’s oil income, Bahney and other analysts in the U.S., the Middle East, and Europe contend, Islamic State has resources beyond crude—from selling sex slaves to ransoming hostages to plundering stolen farmland—that can likely keep it fighting for years.”
Still, without a doubt, the dominant source of funds for the terrorists is oil, and not just oil, but a well-greased logistical machine that keeps thousands of barrels moving from unknown pumps to even refineries, and ultimately to smugglers who operated out of Turkey and other countries.
Here is Bloomberg:
Most often refined in Syria, the group’s oil is trucked to cities such as Mosul to provide people living under its black banner with fuel for generators and other basic needs. It’s also used to power the war machine. “They have quite an organized supply chain running fuel into Iraq and [throughout] the ‘caliphate,’ ” says Michael Knights, an Iraq expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, using the militant group’s religiously loaded term for itself. Because the U.S. apparently believed the real money for Islamic State came primarily via selling refined oil, rather than crude, last year’s strikes heavily targeted refineries and storage depots, says Bahney. He and other experts say that strategy missed an important shift: Militants increasingly sell raw crude to truckers and middlemen, rather than refining it themselves. So while Islamic State probably maintains some refining capacity, the majority of the oil in IS territory is refined by locals who operate thousands of rudimentary, roadside furnaces that dot the Syrian desert.
Here is where it gets interesting: Bloomberg cites Pentagon officials who acknowledge “that for more than a year they avoided striking tanker trucks to limit civilian casualties. None of these guys are ISIS. We don’t feel right vaporizing them, so we have been watching ISIS oil flowing around for a year,” says Knights. That changed on Nov. 16, when four U.S. attack planes and two gunships destroyed 116 oil trucks.
So any qualms about vaporizing “innocent civilians” promptly disappeared when the Pentagon realized that its 1+ year long campaign had been an epic debacle, that a suddenly surging ISIS was stronger as ever, and most importantly, that its critical revenue lifelines had been largely untouched for years. Perhaps they weren’t innocent civilians after all.
It is still unknown if this recent crackdown on “dumping oil”, or crude which dramatically lowers the price of oil in global markets – it certainly is an odd coincidence that the price of Brent and WTI began its tumble last fall, just when the Islamic State made its dramatic appearance on the world scene – will have an effect and cut off the primary source of funds to ISIS.
But what we have been wondering for months and what we hope some enterprising journalist will soon answer, is just who are the commodity trading firms that have been so generously buying millions of smuggled oil barrels procured by the Islamic State at massive discounts to market, and then reselling them to other interested parties.
In other words, who are the middlemen.
What we do know is who they may be: they are the same names that were quite prominent in the market in September when Glencore had its first, and certainly not last, near death experience: the Glencores, the Vitols, the Trafiguras, the Nobels, the Mercurias of the world.
To be sure, funding terrorist states is not something that some of the most prominent names in the list above have shied away from in the past.
Which one (or ones) are the guilty parties – those who have openly breached terrorism funding laws – we don’t know: it may be one, or more of the above, or someone totally different.
At this point, however, three things are certain: whoever the commodity trading house may be that is paying ISIS-affiliated “innocent civilians” hundreds of millions of dollars for their products, they are perfect aware just who the source of this deeply discounted crude is. Crude so deeply discounted, in fact, it results in massive profits for the enterprising middleman who are engaging in openly criminal transactions.
The second certainty: whoever said middleman is, it is very well known to US intelligence services such as the NSA and CIA, and thus to the Pentagon, and thus, the US government.
The third certainty is that while the US, and Russia, and now France, are all very theatrically bombing something in the Syrian desert (nobody really knows what), the funding of ISIS continues unabated as someone keeps buying ISIS oil.
We wonder how long until someone finally asks the all important question regarding the Islamic State: who is the commodity trader breaching every known law of funding terrorism when buying ISIS crude, almost certainly with the tacit approval by various “western alliance” governments, and why is it that these governments have allowed said middleman to continue funding ISIS for as long as it has?
Meet The Man Who Funds ISIS: Bilal Erdogan, The Son Of Turkey’s President
Russia’s Sergey Lavrov is not one foreign minister known to mince his words. Just earlier today, 24 hours after a Russian plane was brought down by the country whose president three years ago said “a short-term border violation can never be a pretext for an attack”, had this to say: “We have serious doubts this was an unintended incident and believe this is a planned provocation” by Turkey.
But even that was tame compared to what Lavrov said to his Turkish counterparty Mevlut Cavusoglu earlier today during a phone call between the two (Lavrov who was supposed to travel to Turkey has since canceled such plans).
As Sputnik transcribes, according to a press release from Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Lavrov pointed out that, “by shooting down a Russian plane on a counter-terrorist mission of the Russian Aerospace Force in Syria, and one that did not violate Turkey’s airspace, the Turkish government has in effect sided with ISIS.“
It was in this context when Lavrov added that “Turkey’s actions appear premeditated, planned, and undertaken with a specific objective.“
More importantly, Lavrov pointed to Turkey’s role in the propping up the terror network through the oil trade. Per the Russian statement:
“The Russian Minister reminded his counterpart about Turkey’s involvement in the ISIS’ illegal trade in oil, which is transported via the area where the Russian plane was shot down, and about the terrorist infrastructure, arms and munitions depots and control centers that are also located there.”
Others reaffirmed Lavrov’s stance, such as retired French General Dominique Trinquand, who said that “Turkey is either not fighting ISIL at all or very little, and does not interfere with different types of smuggling that takes place on its border, be it oil, phosphate, cotton or people,” he said.
The reason we find this line of questioning fascinating is that just last week in the aftermath of the French terror attack but long before the Turkish downing of the Russian jet, we wrote about “The Most Important Question About ISIS That Nobody Is Asking” in which we asked who is the one “breaching every known law of funding terrorism when buying ISIS crude, almost certainly with the tacit approval by various “western alliance” governments, and why is it that these governments have allowed said middleman to continue funding ISIS for as long as it has?“
Precisely one week later, in even more tragic circumstances, suddenly everyone is asking this question.
And while we patiently dig to find who the on and offshore “commodity trading” middleman are, who cart away ISIS oil to European and other international markets in exchange for hundreds of millions of dollars, one name keeps popping up as the primary culprit of regional demand for the Islamic State’s “terrorist oil” – that of Turkish president Recep Erdogan’s son: Bilal Erdogan.
His very brief bio:
Necmettin Bilal Erdogan, commonly known as Bilal Erdogan (born 23 April 1980) is the third child of Recep Tayyip Erdo?an, the current President of Turkey.
After graduating from Kartal Imam Hatip High School in 1999, Bilal Erdogan moved to the US for undergraduate education. He also earned a Masters Degree in John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in 2004. After graduation, he served in the World Bank as intern for a while. He returned Turkey in 2006 and started to his business life. Bilal Erdogan is one of the three equal shareholders of “BMZ Group Denizcilik “, a marine transportation corporation.
Here is a recent picture of Bilal, shown in a photo from a Turkish 2014 article, which “asked why his ships are now in Syria”:
In the next few days, we will present a full breakdown of Bilal’s various business ventures, starting with his BMZ Group which is the name implicated most often in the smuggling of illegal Iraqi and Islamic State through to the western supply chain, but for now here is a brief, if very disturbing snapshot, of both father and son Erdogan by F. William Engdahl, one which should make everyone ask whether the son of Turkey’s president (and thus, the father) is the silent mastermind who has been responsible for converting millions of barrels of Syrian Oil into hundreds of millions of dollars of Islamic State revenue.
By F. William Engdahl, posted originally in New Eastern Outlook:
Erdogan’s Dirth Dangerous ISIS Games
More and more details are coming to light revealing that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, variously known as ISIS, IS or Daesh, is being fed and kept alive by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish President and by his Turkish intelligence service, including MIT, the Turkish CIA. Turkey, as a result of Erdogan’s pursuit of what some call a Neo-Ottoman Empire fantasies that stretch all the way to China, Syria and Iraq, threatens not only to destroy Turkey but much of the Middle East if he continues on his present path.
In October 2014 US Vice President Joe Biden told a Harvard gathering that Erdogan’s regime was backing ISIS with “hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of tons of weapons…” Biden later apologized clearly for tactical reasons to get Erdo?an’s permission to use Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base for airstrikes against ISIS in Syria, but the dimensions of Erdogan’s backing for ISIS since revealed is far, far more than Biden hinted.
ISIS militants were trained by US, Israeli and now it emerges, by Turkish special forces at secret bases in Konya Province inside the Turkish border to Syria, over the past three years. Erdo?an’s involvement in ISIS goes much deeper. At a time when Washington, Saudi Arabia and even Qatar appear to have cut off their support for ISIS, they remaining amazingly durable. The reason appears to be the scale of the backing from Erdo?an and his fellow neo-Ottoman Sunni Islam Prime Minister, Ahmet Davuto?lu.
Nice Family Business
The prime source of money feeding ISIS these days is sale of Iraqi oil from the Mosul region oilfields where they maintain a stronghold. The son of Erdogan it seems is the man who makes the export sales of ISIS-controlled oil possible.
Bilal Erdo?an owns several maritime companies. He has allegedly signed contracts with European operating companies to carry Iraqi stolen oil to different Asian countries. The Turkish government buys Iraqi plundered oil which is being produced from the Iraqi seized oil wells. Bilal Erdogan’s maritime companies own special wharfs in Beirut and Ceyhan ports that are transporting ISIS’ smuggled crude oil in Japan-bound oil tankers.
Gürsel Tekin vice-president of the Turkish Republican Peoples’ Party, CHP, declared in a recent Turkish media interview, “President Erdogan claims that according to international transportation conventions there is no legal infraction concerning Bilal’s illicit activities and his son is doing an ordinary business with the registered Japanese companies, but in fact Bilal Erdo?an is up to his neck in complicity with terrorism, but as long as his father holds office he will be immune from any judicial prosecution.” Tekin adds that Bilal’s maritime company doing the oil trades for ISIS, BMZ Ltd, is “a family business and president Erdogan’s close relatives hold shares in BMZ and they misused public funds and took illicit loans from Turkish banks.”
In addition to son Bilal’s illegal and lucrative oil trading for ISIS, Sümeyye Erdogan, the daughter of the Turkish President apparently runs a secret hospital camp inside Turkey just over the Syrian border where Turkish army trucks daily being in scores of wounded ISIS Jihadists to be patched up and sent back to wage the bloody Jihad in Syria, according to the testimony of a nurse who was recruited to work there until it was discovered she was a member of the Alawite branch of Islam, the same as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad who Erdogan seems hell-bent on toppling.
Turkish citizen Ramazan Bagol, captured this month by Kurdish People’s Defence Units,YPG, as he attempted to join ISIS from Konya province, told his captors that said he was sent to ISIS by the ‘Ismailia Sect,’ a strict Turkish Islam sect reported to be tied to Recep Erdogan. Baol said the sect recruits members and provides logistic support to the radical Islamist organization. He added that the Sect gives jihad training in neighborhoods of Konya and sends those trained here to join ISIS gangs in Syria.
According to French geopolitical analyst, Thierry Meyssan, Recep Erdogan “organized the pillage of Syria, dismantled all the factories in Aleppo, the economic capital, and stole the machine-tools. Similarly, he organized the theft of archaeological treasures and set up an international market in Antioch…with the help of General Benoît Puga, Chief of Staff for the Elysée, he organized a false-flag operation intended to provoke the launching of a war by the Atlantic Alliance – the chemical bombing of la Ghoutta in Damascus, in August 2013. “
Meyssan claims that the Syria strategy of Erdo?an was initially secretly developed in coordination with former French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé and Erdogan’s then Foreign Minister Ahmet Davuto?lu, in 2011, after Juppe won a hesitant Erdogan to the idea of supporting the attack on traditional Turkish ally Syria in return for a promise of French support for Turkish membership in the EU. France later backed out, leaving Erdogan to continue the Syrian bloodbath largely on his own using ISIS.
Gen. John R. Allen, an opponent of Obama’s Iran peace strategy, now US diplomatic envoy coordinating the coalition against the Islamic State, exceeded his authorized role after meeting with Erdogan and “promised to create a “no-fly zone” ninety miles wide, over Syrian territory, along the whole border with Turkey, supposedly intended to help Syrian refugees fleeing from their government, but in reality to apply the “Juppé-Wright plan”. The Turkish Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, revealed US support for the project on the TV channel A Haber by launching a bombing raid against the PKK.” Meyssan adds.
There are never winners in war and Erdogan’s war against Syria’s Assad demonstrates that in bold. Turkey and the world deserve better. Ahmet Davutoglu’s famous “Zero Problems With Neighbors” foreign policy has been turned into massive problems with all neighbors due to the foolish ambitions of Erdogan and his gang.
How Turkey Exports ISIS Oil To The World: The Scientific Evidence
Over the course of the last four or so weeks, the media has paid quite a bit of attention to Islamic State’s lucrative trade in “stolen” crude.
On November 16, in a highly publicized effort, US warplanes destroyed 116 ISIS oil trucks in Syria. 45 minutes prior, leaflets were dropped advising drivers (who Washington is absolutely sure are not ISIS members themselves) to “get out of [their] trucks and run away.”
The peculiar thing about the US strikes is that it took The Pentagon nearly 14 months to figure out that the most effective way to cripple Islamic State’s oil trade is to bomb… the oil.
Prior to November, the US “strategy” revolved around bombing the group’s oil infrastructure. As it turns out, that strategy was minimally effective at best and it’s not entirely clear that an effort was made to inform The White House, Congress, and/or the public about just how little damage the airstrikes were actually inflicting. There are two possible explanations as to why Centcom may have sought to make it sound as though the campaign was going better than it actually was, i) national intelligence director James Clapper pulled a Dick Cheney and pressured Maj. Gen. Steven Grove into delivering upbeat assessments, or ii) The Pentagon and the CIA were content with ineffectual bombing runs because intelligence officials were keen on keeping Islamic State’s oil revenue flowing so the group could continue to operate as a major destabilizing element vis-a-vis the Assad regime.
Ultimately, Russia cried foul at the perceived ease with which ISIS transported its illegal oil and once it became clear that Moscow was set to hit the group’s oil convoys, the US was left with virtually no choice but to go along for the ride. Washington’s warplanes destroyed another 280 trucks earlier this week. Russia claims to have vaporized more than 1,000 transport vehicles in November.
Of course the most intriguing questions when it comes to Islamic State’s $400 million+ per year oil business, are: where does this oil end up and who is facilitating delivery? In an effort to begin answering those questions we wrote:
- The Most Important Question About ISIS That Nobody Is Asking
- Meet The Man Who Funds ISIS: Bilal Erdogan, The Son Of Turkey’s President
Turkey’s role in facilitating the sale of Islamic State oil has been the subject of some debate for quite a while. From “NATO is harbouring the Islamic State: Why France’s brave new war on ISIS is a sick joke, and an insult to the victims of the Paris attacks“, by Nafeez Ahmed:
“Turkey has played a key role in facilitating the life-blood of ISIS’ expansion: black market oil sales. Senior political and intelligence sources in Turkey and Iraq confirm that Turkish authorities have actively facilitated ISIS oil sales through the country. Last summer, Mehmet Ali Ediboglu, an MP from the main opposition, the Republican People’s Party, estimated the quantity of ISIS oil sales in Turkey at about $800 million—that was over a year ago. By now, this implies that Turkey has facilitated over $1 billion worth of black market ISIS oil sales to date.”
Here’s what former CHP lawmaker Ali Ediboglu said last year:
“$800 million worth of oil that ISIS obtained from regions it occupied this year [the Rumeilan oil fields in northern Syria — and most recently Mosul] is being sold in Turkey. They have laid pipes from villages near the Turkish border at Hatay. Similar pipes exist also at [the Turkish border regions of] Kilis, Urfa and Gaziantep. They transfer the oil to Turkey and parlay it into cash. They take the oil from the refineries at zero cost. Using primitive means, they refine the oil in areas close to the Turkish border and then sell it via Turkey. This is worth $800 million.”
Earlier this month, Ediboglu told Russian media that “ISIL holds the key to these deposits and together with a certain group of persons, consisting of those close to Barzani and some Turkish businessmen, they are engaged in selling this oil” (“Barzani” is a reference to Masoud Barzani, President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region).
But even as Turkey’s ties to the ISIS oil trade have been hiding in plain sight for the better part of two years, the Western media largely ignores the issue (or at least the scope of it and the possible complicity of the Erdogan government) because after all, Turkey is a NATO member.
Unfortunately for Ankara, Erdogan’s move to shoot down a Russian Su-24 near the Syrian border on Tuesday prompted an angry Vladimir Putin to throw Turkey under the ISIS oil bus for the entire world to see. Here’s what Putin said yesterday after a meeting in Moscow with French President Francois Hollande:
“Vehicles, carrying oil, lined up in a chain going beyond the horizon. The views resemble a living oil pipe stretched from ISIS and rebel controlled areas of Syria into Turkey. Day and night they are going to Turkey. Trucks always go there loaded, and back from there – empty. We are talking about a commercial-scale supply of oil from the occupied Syrian territories seized by terrorists. It is from these areas [that oil comes from], and not with any others. And we can see it from the air, where these vehicles are going.”
“We assume that the top political leadership of Turkey might not know anything about this [illegal oil trade although that’s] hard to believe,” Putin continued, adding that “if the top political leadership doesn’t know anything about this, let them find out.”
Obviously, Putin is being sarcastic. He very clearly believes that the Erdogan government is heavily involved in the transport and sale of ISIS crude. In the immediate aftermath of the Su-24 incident, Putin said the following about Ankara:
- PUTIN: OIL FROM ISLAMIC STATE IS BEING SHIPPED TO TURKEY
- PUTIN SAYS ISLAMIC STATE GETS CASH BY SELLING OIL TO TURKEY
As part of our continuing effort to track and document the ISIS oil trade, we present the following excerpts from a study by George Kiourktsoglou, Visiting Lecturer, University of Greenwich, London and Dr Alec D Coutroubis, Principal Lecturer, University of Greenwich, London. The paper, entitled “ISIS Gateway To Global Crude Oil Markets,” looks at tanker charter rates from the port of Ceyhan in an effort to determine if Islamic State crude is being shipped from Southeast Turkey.
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The tradesmen/smugglers responsible for the transportation and sale of the black gold send convoys of up to thirty trucks to the extraction sites of the commodity. They settle their trades with ISIS on site, encouraged by customer friendly discounts and deferred payment schemes. In this way, crude leaves Islamic State-run wells promptly and travels through insurgent-held parts of Syria, Iraq and Turkey.
Since allied U.S. air-raids do not target the truck lorries out of fear of provoking a backlash from locals, the transport operations are being run efficiently, taking place most of times in broad daylight. Traders lured by high profits are active in Syria (even in government-held territories), Iraq and south-east Turkey.
The supply chain comprises the following localities: Sanliura, Urfa, Hakkari, Siirt, Batman, Osmaniya, Gaziantep, Sirnak, Adana, Kahramarmaras, Adiyaman and Mardin. The string of trading hubs ends up in Adana, home to the major tanker shipping port of Ceyhan.
Ceyhan is a city in south-eastern Turkey, with a population of 110,000 inhabitants, of whom 105,000 live in the major metropolitan area. It is the second most developed and most populous city of Adana Province, after the capital Adana with a population of 1,700,000. It is situated on the Ceyhan River which runs through the city and it is located 43 km east of Adana. Ceyhan is the transportation hub for Middle Eastern, Central Asian and Russian oil and natural gas (Municipality of Ceyhan 2015).
The port of Ceyhan plays host to a marine oil terminal that is situated in the Turkish Mediterranean and has been operating since 2006. It receives hydrocarbons for further loading in tankers, which carry the commodity to world markets.
Additionally, the port features a cargo pier and an oil-terminal, both of 23.2m depth that can load tankers of more than 500 feet in length (Ports.com 2015). The annual export capacity of the terminal runs as high as 50 million tonnes of oil. The terminal is operated by Botas International Limited (BIL), a Turkish state company that also operates the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline on the territory of Turkey.
The quantities of crude oil that are being exported to the terminal in Ceyhan, exceed the mark of one million barrels per day. Putting this number into context and given that ISIS has never been able to trade daily more than 45,000 barrels of oil (see Section 2, ‘The Upstream Oil Business of ISIS’, page 2), it becomes evident that the detection of similar quantities of smuggled crude cannot take place through stock-accounting methods. However, the authors of the present paper believe that there is another proxy-indicator, far more sensitive to quantities of ultracheap smuggled crude. This is the charter rates for tankers loading at Ceyhan.
The Baltic Exchange (2015 a) tracks the charter rates on major seaborne trading routes of crude oil. To render its service more efficient and easily understood, it uses the system of Baltic Dirty Tanker Indices (Baltic Exchange 2015 b). One of these indices used to be the BDTI TD 11, 80,000 Cross Mediterranean from Baniyas, Syria to Laveras, France (see Map VI). Route 11 was discontinued in September 2011, due to Syria’s civil war and soon thereafter, it was replaced by BDTI TD 19 (TD19-TCE_Calculation 2015), of exactly the same technical specifications as BDTI TD 11, with the exception of the loading port of Ceyhan instead of Baniyas.
From July 2014 until February 2015, the curve of TD 19 features three unusual spikes that do not match the trends featured by the rest of the Middle East trade-routes (see Graph IV):
- The first spike develops from the 10th of July 2014 until the 21st, lasting approximately ten days. It coincides with the fall of Syria’s largest oil field, the AlOmar, in the hands of ISIS (Reuters 2014);
- The second spike takes place from the end of October until the end of November 2014, lasting one month. It happens at the same time with fierce fighting between fundamentalists and the Syrian army over the control of the Jhar and Mahr gas fields, as well as the Hayyan gas company in the east of Homs province (International Business Times 2014; Albawada News 214);
- The third spike lasts from the end of January 2015 until the 10th of February, stretching roughly ten days. It happens simultaneously with a sustained US-led campaign of airstrikes pounding ISIS strongholds in and around the town of Hawija east of the oil-rich Kirkuk (Rudaw 2015);
The authors of this paper would like to make it clear from the very beginning that this has not been the case of a ‘smoking gun’. The evidence has been inconclusive. But even if volumes of ISIS crude found their way, beyond any reasonable doubt, to the international crude oil markets via the Ceyhan terminal, this fact would not conclusively point to collusion between the Turkish authorities and the shadow network of smugglers, let alone ISIS operatives.
However, having clarified such a politically sensitive issue, the authors believe that there are strong hints to an illicit supply chain that ships ISIS crude from Ceyhan. Primary research points to a considerably active shadow network of crude oil smugglers and traders (see section 2.1, page 3), who channel ISIS crude to southeast Turkey from northeast Syria and northwest Iraq. Given the existence of Route E 90, the corresponding transportation of oil poses no insurmountable geographic and topological challenges.
An additional manifestation of the invisible nexus between Ceyhan and ISIS became evident through the concurrent study of the tanker charter rates from the port and the timeline of the terrorists’ military engagements (see section 3.4 on this page). It seems that whenever the Islamic State is fighting in the vicinity of an area hosting oil assets, the 13 exports from Ceyhan promptly spike. This may be attributed to an extra boost given to crude oil smuggling with the aim of immediately generating additional funds, badly needed for the supply of ammunition and military equipment. Unfortunately, in this case too, the authors cannot be categorical.
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No, it can’t be categorical and frankly, if the authors claimed to have discovered indisputable proof, we would be immediately skeptical. What they have done however, is identify a statistical anomaly and develop a plausible theory to explain it.
The key thing to note, is that this is a state-run terminal and it certainly seems as though charter rates spike around significant oil-related events involving Islamic State. Indeed, the fact that the authors mention collusion between Turkish authorities and ISIS operatives (even if they do so on the way to hedging their conclusions) indicates that the researchers think such a partnership is possible.
Finally, note that Ceyhan is less than two hours by car from Incirlik air base from which the US is flying anti-ISIS sorties. In other words, ISIS oil is being shipped to the world right down the road from Washington’s preferred Mid-East forward operating base.
Now that we can add what looks like quantitative evidence that ISIS oil is shipped from Turkey to the voluminous qualitative evidence supplied by ex-Turkish lawmakers, investigative reporters, and the Russian government (to name just a few sources), we can now proceed to consider one final question: where does the crude that helps to fund Bakr al-Baghdadi’s caliphate ultimately end up? More on that over the weekend.