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Budgets and bureaucracy: How the Islamic State operates

Kai Ryssdal and Robert Garrova Nov 16, 2015
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 The horrific attacks carried out by Islamic State in Paris last week have many asking not only why, but how. How does ISIS organize itself, not only in the Middle East, but abroad? And do the recent attacks in Paris spell a new tactic for the group that has historically focused on state building in the Middle East?

 Dr. William McCants is a fellow at the Center for Middle East Policy and the author of the new book, “The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State.” He spoke with Marketplace’s Kai Ryssdal.

On how ISIS has become more than just a terrorist organization:

Over the past two years it’s morphed from an insurgent organization to an actual state. It has a government, it has a bureaucracy and we should think of it as a state. It’s a state sponsor of terrorism.

On how ISIS keeps track of funds:

They keep detailed excel spreadsheets of every expenditure. They leave a large paper trail tracking who’s doing what when and where.

On the ISIS’ finite resources:

They do have finite resources and it’s shrinking every day because its territory is shrinking. They get most of their money from extortion and taxes and they are spending in a rapid pace on their war effort. So they are quickly coming up against a resource problem and they can’t do everything they want to in the region so they have to think carefully about what they hope to achieve strategically from attacks abroad like this.

On what the attacks in Paris might mean for the future of Islamic State strategy:

Heretofore, the Islamic State has spent most of its money on state building in the Middle East. It wanted to inspire attacks abroad, but it wasn’t willing to expend a lot of money or human resources to do so. I think over the past two weeks however, we’ve seen a major shift culminating with the attacks in Europe. We can debate why the Islamic State has made that shift, but I believe that shift is undeniable. It was always a global jihadist organization, always talked about attacking abroad. But now it’s making good on its promises. 

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