Refining ISIS Oil: Images From A Syrian Cottage Industry

From the time Turkey ambushed and downed a Russian Su-24 near the Syrian border late last month, the world has developed a fascination with Islamic State’s illicit and highly lucrative oil smuggling business. 

Although there are multiple accounts which purport to explain how the group ultimately gets its oil to market, the general consensus is that there are a series of trafficking routes that all converge on the Turkish port of Ceyhan. The Russian defense ministry says it’s identified at least three such routes and a report by Al-Araby al-Jadeed documented the path the illegal crude takes from northern Iraq to the southeast coast of Turkey.

While no one has yet offered any conclusive evidence to prove that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his family are behind the trade, there’s quite a bit of circumstantial and anecdotal evidence to tie Ankara to “Raqqa’s Rockefellers” (if you will).

And while everyone loves watching Russian MoD clips of oil tankers barreling across the Turkish border without so much as slowing down, what you don’t see that often are images from the various cottage industries that have grown up around Islamic State’s oil trade. 

Below are several pictures of a makeshift refinery near Idlib (the site of Tuesday’s Russian airstrike on a fuel market) which Reuters says runs on Islamic State oil. 

Men work at a makeshift oil refinery site in Marchmarin town, southern countryside of Idlib, Syria December 16, 2015. The refinery site, owned by Yousef Ayoub, 34, has been active for 4 months. Ayoub says that he gets the crude oil from Islamic State-controlled areas in Deir al-Zor province and Iraq. The price for a barrel of crude oil varies and is controlled by the Islamic State, but it is currently at $44 dollars per barrel, he said. 

A youth works at a makeshift oil refinery site in Marchmarin town, southern countryside of Idlib, Syria December 16, 2015. Islamic State is looking at potentially vulnerable oil assets in Libya and elsewhere outside its Syria stronghold, where the militant group controls about roughly 80 percent of the oil and gas fields, a senior U.S. official said.

A worker shows off the final fuel product at a makeshift oil refinery site in Marchmarin town, southern countryside of Idlib, Syria December 16, 2015.