Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 66(2) May 2016

Is ISIS Trafficking Human Organs?
Jihad and The Instrumentalization of The Human Body

Peter E. Chojnowski, PhD.

Peter ChojnowskiThe Islamic State is harvesting human organs to finance its expansionist caliphate. This claim was made early in 2015 by the Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations, Mohamed Alhakim. His testimony before the UN Security Council was accompanied by a request for the 15-member body to investigate the reports of coercive body part removal and trade coming out of Iraq and Syria. According to Alhakim, the claims concerning what would be a new aspect of ISIS funding have not only hearsay evidence behind them, but rather the evidence of bodies buried in shallow graves in Northern Iraq, which have surgical incisions and missing kidneys[1]. “We have bodies, come and examine them. It is clear that they are missing certain parts.”[2] The Iraqi envoy also, pointed to the executions of a dozen doctors in Northern Iraq after these physicians refused to harvest the organs of ISIS victims. Accusing the Islamic State of “desecrating all human values,” Alhakim added, “This is clearly something bigger than we think.”[3] The envoy’s testimony concerning the expansion of the Islamic State’s actions into the realm of human organ trafficking was an amplification of earlier testimony in front of the Security Council by out­going UN envoy to Iraq, Nikolay Mladenov who noted the increasing number of reports and allegations that the Islamic State is using organ harvesting as a financing method.[4]

The description “bigger than we think” would match the report being given by the chief of forensic pathology at the University of Damascus, Hossain Noufel. As reported by the Iranian news source Al-Alam, Noufel has asserted that there have been more than 18,000 organ trafficking cases in the northern part of Syria in recent years. He also insisted that many of the victims were children. “Syrian people...are now dealing with organ traffickers who are slicing off their own share from the unfortunate Syrian families.[5] This would be in accord with the article published by Bioedge, an organization which monitors bioethical developments around the world, which cites the Arab publication Al-Monitor’s interview with a physician from Mosul, Iraq in which he told the publication that large-scale organ harvesting is taking place in local hospitals and that ISIS “was reaping significant profits from the scheme.” The otolaryngologist, Siruwan Al-Mosuli, reported that physicians were being hired to perform rapid organ removal operations from “recently deceased jihadis or captives.” [6] These physicians were prohibited from mixing with local doctors. According to Al-Mosuli, surgeries take place within a hospital and organs are quickly transported through networks specializing in trafficking human organs. The specialized mafia and the foreign hospitals involved in this illegal trade exhibit a high degree of coordination in order to realize maximum profits.[7]

The trafficking in human organs is, according to reports, one of several sources of funding for the Islamic State’s military and terrorist activities. Another is the sale of oil from ISIS controlled areas in Syria and Iraq, along with the movement of Afghan heroin through Iraq to Europe. Just like the human organ trade, the Islamic State’s trade in oil and heroin can only occur due to “trade canals” through Kurdish territories in Iraq and Turkey, with the help of Kurdish, Turkish, and Iranian traders.[8]

The unfolding investigation into Islamic State body parts trafficking and the instrumentalization of human body parts by exchanging them for money as commodities, has taken on a religious dimension due to the recently released document purportedly seized by US Special Forces in a raid in eastern Syria in May of 2015 and obtained by Reuters in December 2015; Reuters, however, could not independently confirm the authenticity of the document. The document, dating from January 31, 2015, was purportedly seized during the raid in which the top financial official of ISIS, Abu Sayyaf was killed and his wife captured.[9] This document appears to give religious sanction to the harvesting from living non-Muslims of body parts which would be used to save the life of a Muslim recipient, even if this would entail the death of the “donor.”[10] According to the document, which is in the form of a fatwa, or religious ruling, from the Islamic State’s Research and Fatwa Committee, “The apostate’s life and organs don’t have to be respected and may be taken with impunity....Organs that end the captive’s life if removed: The removal of that type is also not prohibited.”[11] According to the US government’s translation of this document, the fatwa sanctioning organ harvesting justifies the practice in part by drawing an analogy to can­nibalism in extreme circumstances, a practice it says earlier Islamic scholars had allowed. “A group of Islamic scholars have permitted, if necessary, one to kill the apostate in order to eat his flesh, which is part of benefiting from his body.”[12] Iraq’s ambassador to the UN, Mohamed Al Alhakim, told Reuters the documents should be examined by the UN Security Council as further evidence that Islamic State could be trafficking in human organs to raise cash.[13]

It has been the international war against the Islamic State which has brought to the attention of the world the trade of human organs by profit seeking cartels. Investigations into this world-wide reduction of the parts of the human body into commodities for sale to the highest bidder reach to the beginning of the 21st century. The medical conditions for this trade, still illegal in all countries but Iran,[14] were established in the 1950s with the discovery of anti-rejection drugs like cyclosporine. Since then the gradual rendering of “usable” human body parts to the status of mere commodities capable of being placed on the black market has grown more profitable with each advancing year.

In 2006 the website for the China International Transplantation Network Assistance advertised a straight forward list of prices for various body parts: kidney $62,000; liver $98,000 - $130,000; lung $150,000 - $170,000; heart $130,000 - $160,000; cornea $30,000. [15]

It was generally known that such parts were coming from prisoners who had been recently executed. Such lucrative business in the “parts” of “donors” under various degrees of coercion can only serve to raise the question of trafficking in desperately needed human organs to the highest level of human moral and legal concern. Moreover, we have good reason to ask ourselves whether we have seen a new form of human slavery emerge in which it is not the whole of a person which is used for the benefit of another, as in the old slavery, but “parts” of a person, since organ trafficking always takes “human resources” out of impoverished nations and brings them to rich nations, out of the unemployed and desperate to those wealthy classes who can afford to pay for the healthy organs of the poor.

Philosophically speaking, is the human person or those determining his or her fate, going to be allowed to destroy the organic unity of man in order to reconstitute the person as a simple ensemble of sellable commodities? It seems as if the New Organ Wars have begun.


  1. “ISIS ‘organ harvesting’ must be probed by Security Council – Iraqi envoy” on Russia Today (February 18, 2015).
  2. Ibid.
  3. “ISIS trafficking human organs; UN investigates” in The Times of India (February 19, 2015).
  4. Ibid.
  5. Bob Unruh, “Reports: ISIS Cashes in on Human Organ Traf ficking” on World Net Daily (December 18, 2014). Also, cf. “Organ trafficking adds up to Syrians’ suffering” on Alalam (March 25, 2014).
  6. “Islamic State reaps profits from organ trafficking” on Al-Monitor (December 5, 2014). Cf. Xavier Symons, “Islamic State rumored to fund war with organ trafficking” on Bioedge (December 14, 2014).
  7. Unruh, “Reports.”
  8. Al-Monitor, “Islamic State.”
  9. Warren Strobel, Jonathan Landay, and Phil Stewart, “Exclusive: Islamic State sanctioned organ harvesting in document taken in U.S. raid” on Reuters (December 25, 2015).
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Alexander T. Tabarrok, “The Meat Market” in The Wall Street Journal (January 9, 2010).
  15. Scot Carney, The Red Market: On the Trail of the World’s Organ Brokers, Bone Thieves, Blood Farmers, and Child Traffickers (New York: Harper Collins, 2011), Kindle Edition, Loc. 1156.

Dr. Peter E. Chojnowski has an undergraduate degree in Political Science and another in Philosophy from Christendom College.
He also received his master's degree and doctorate in Philosophy from Fordham University