The connections between oil and terrorism

Our over-reliance on oil has dangerous consequences. When you pay at the pump, your hard-earned cash isn’t just going to oil companies — it also fills the pockets of terrorists and hostile regimes that harbor dangerous ideologies.

We’ve gathered a few prominent examples of oil revenues funding some of the most dangerous and violent groups in the world (there are more links between oil and terrorism, but consider this list a good place to start):



oil and terrorismArguably one of the greatest terrorism threats in the modern world, ISIS is a jihadist group whose crimes range from genocide, to sexual slavery, to carrying out terrorist attacks around the globe. And like many terrorist groups, ISIS funds a good portion of their activities with oil money. However, what makes ISIS unique is that they receive their oil money in multiple ways.

The first revenue stream comes from oil fields that ISIS directly controls. ISIS sells that oil to desperate people in the surrounding region who need fuel, sometimes even smuggling the oil into Turkey where it is bought by refiners. This practice on average nets them a cool $1.5 million each day. The second stream comes from individuals and Islamist charities in oil rich Gulf States like Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia—more on that below. These individuals send substantial sums of money to ISIS and other terrorist organizations, making up a solid chunk of the groups’ funding.


2. Mexican cartels

While not their main source of income, Mexican cartels can make “$90,000 in seven minutes” by tapping into oil pipelines. These gangs are responsible for the Mexican Drug War that has raged for more than a decade and taken the lives of more than 80,000 people. Illicit oil sales provide the cartels with $1 billion in funding each year, and will continue to do so until the world ends its toxic relationship with oil.


3. Saudi Arabia

oil and terrorismIn Saudi Arabia, the home country of 15 of the 19 hijackers who carried out the 9/11 attacks, the relationship between the kingdom and funding for terrorism has a long and tragic history. Much of the money that has gone toward those nefarious purposes was generated from the sale of oil.

As early as the 1960s, Saudi Arabians have used their vast oil wealth to spread an extreme version of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism through the globe. Amongst other ultraconservative views, Wahhabism promotes intolerance (oftentimes through violence) of different religions and cultures—including other sects of Islam. More directly, leaked U.S. government documents have portrayed Saudi Arabia as a “cash machine” for terrorists—providing significant sources of funding for terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and Lashkar-e-Taiba. While it’s true that the Saudi government has recently taken steps to curtail sources of terrorism funding from their country’s citizens, oil money from Saudi Arabia is still finding its way into the pockets of terrorists around the globe. In addition, the Saudi government and Saudi charities continue to fund a worldwide Wahhabi education system that breeds hate and is a major source of recruitment for terror organizations and radicalization. Sadly, our addiction to oil helps fund many of these activities (the U.S. alone sends Saudi Arabia $60.8 million every day for their oil). Until we find a way to rely on U.S.-made alternative fuels, that’s unlikely to change.


4. Iran

oil and terrorismIran, whose economy is heavily reliant on the sale of oil, is also considered the world’s “biggest state sponsor of terrorism.” Not content with just funneling money to terrorist organizations, Iran supplies some of these groups with training and weapons as well. While the state-sponsor of terrorism has been known to provide resources to different terrorist organizations operating in Iraq, Israel, and Afghanistan, they’ve also gone so far as to create their own terrorist network. In the 1980s they helped found the Islamist group Hezbollah that operates out of Lebanon and Syria, but has orchestrated bombings and terror attacks across the globe. Iran maintains its support for Hezbollah to the tune of $100 million to $200 million each year, and will continue to do so as long as the world relies on oil.


5.Qatar/Kuwait/United Arab Emirates

oil and terrorismWhile not as notorious as Saudi Arabia, citizens from this collection of petro-reliant Gulf States—nations that we send nearly $13 million a day for oil—are known to provide significant amounts of funds to terrorists. In the early days of the Syrian Civil war, money was flowing from both private citizens and their governments to groups like ISIS and al-Nusra front—al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch. Recently, state-sponsoring from these countries has tapered off and the United Arab Emirates has undertaken serious measures to reduce funds coming from private citizens. Qatar and Kuwait have also passed laws aiming to restrict terrorism funding from private citizens, but have not followed through with enforcement, allowing millions to flow to violent extremists. In addition, Qatar is the main funder of the worldwide expansion (and education network) of the Muslim Brotherhood Religious sect, that even Saudi Arabia considers a terror organization.


The fact that our oil addiction funds murderers and terrorists is one of the most compelling reasons why we have a moral imperative to move to alternative fuels. But we can’t do it alone. Join us, and together we’ll fight for a world where the money you spend on your fuel doesn’t help fund people and organizations that seek to harm human life and destroy all that we hold dear.


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