TERRORISMFollow the Money: Bringing IS Extremists to Justice

By Cathrin Schaer

Published 30 December 2021

Financing terror, chemical weapons, forensics and digital archives: The ex-German prosecutor now heading the UN’s special team on crimes of the “Islamic State” explains where the search for justice will focus.

Who profited from the rise of the extremist group known as the “Islamic State” in Iraq and where are they today? This is just one of the questions that former German federal prosecutor Christian Ritscher hopes to answer over the course of the next year.

In September 2021, Ritscher was appointed to head UNITADthe United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh (the Arabic name for the “Islamic State” group).

At its peak, the extremist group known as the “Islamic State”, or IS, had thousands of members, including an estimated 40,000 foreign fighters, and controlled around 100,000 square kilometers of territory in Iraq and Syria. As it made up its own ultra-conservative and violent version of Islam, the extremist group committed multiple crimes against everyone from local minorities, like Iraq’s Yazidis and Christians, to Muslims in areas it controlled. Its attack on the ethno-religious Yazidi community has been classified as genocide by the UN

Kidnapping, sexual and physical assault, enslavement, extortion, murder and financial crime were everyday occurrences in the so-called caliphate from 2014 onwards.

Building an Archive
Although around 10,000 fighters are thought to still be active with the Islamic State, or IS, group today, the extremists were more or less pushed out of their strongholds in 2017. Many fighters were killed or imprisoned and the question now is how to prosecute those who have been caught.

UNITAD first started work in August 2018 and is tasked with documenting crimes committed by the brutal extremist group as well as archiving evidence and helping train Iraqi authorities in topics like forensics.

Over the past six months, around 2 million pieces of evidence were archived and digitized by UNITAD. In May 2021, the organization, which employs over 200 people, reported that 14 different nations had asked for help with cases related to the IS group outside of Iraq.