What Does ISIS Spend Its Money On?

After broadcasting a video believed to show its third execution in less than two weeks, it's clear that maintaining its brutal image is a priority for ISIS. On Tuesday, ISIS released a video purportedly showing Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh being burned alive. The terror group seems determined to prove that they are as intimidating as ever, despite setbacks caused by U.S.-led coalition strikes. But deliberately dramatic executions aren't the only thing ISIS pours its money into.

Lt. Kasasbeh is the third hostage believed to be killed by ISIS in 10 days after a two-month period during which the terror group posted no such videos of hostage executions. The uptick in activity suggests a need for the group to compensate on the image front, to make up for their physical losses. In the last five months since the coalition was formed, ISIS has lost strategic territories, more than 6,000 fighters, and several sources of income.

Despite crippled funds, the group needs to continue spending money if it wants to take back lost territories, seize new ones, recruit new members to compensate for the significant loss in manpower, and maintain perhaps the most crucial aspect of its whole operation: its image. As one U.S. official told NBC News: "Running a caliphate is not cheap."

Here's how ISIS is blowing through its cash.



Documents were discovered during a raid on the group in June that revealed ISIS's leadership structure. According to the documents, there top "cabinet" members, mid-level commanders, and an estimated tens of thousands of fighters working within ISIS. The approximately 1,000 medium and senior-level field commanders are paid a salary of $300 to $2000 per month, depending on their position.

Juan Zarate, the former assistant secretary of the Treasury for Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes, told NPR that ISIS pays its fighters "relatively well compared to other fighters."

City Governance and Administration

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After capturing a city or town, ISIS has to spend money to manage it. Although they make a lot of that money back through imposing new taxes and tolls on the residents, running a proper administration to enforce and govern their new system costs money. They also sometimes have to pay for allegiance from tribal leaders and government operatives.

Battle Equipment


Naturally, ISIS needs to maintain a healthy arsenal of weapons, uniforms, and vehicles for its fighters in order to fight against the coalition's airstrike and ground campaigns.

Image and Ideology


Perhaps ISIS's most important expense is the maintenance of its image and dissemination of its ideology, which they do via a vast and sophisticated social media presence. Like other terrorist organizations, ISIS needs to establish secret channels of communication, which comes at a price. And unlike other terror groups before it, ISIS has an unprecedentedly advanced and modern online presence, including a website, multiple social media accounts, and even a smartphone app. These tools are all used to spread the group's ideology and propaganda.

ISIS has more than one official media branch, including the Al Hayat Media Center and the al-Furqan Media Foundation, which released the video of Jordanian pilot al-Kasasbeh on Tuesday. Besides producing and releasing these horrific videos, these media companies are also tasked with making recruitment videos, another area of focus for ISIS. Given the high quality and production value of its videos, it's clear that the people who run these media branches are tech-savvy and well-qualified. No doubt they get paid salaries as well.Images: Getty Images (4)