UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A money transfer firm linked to an Australian national believed to have been photographed while holding severed heads of Syrian soldiers is suspected of transferring up to A$20 million ($15.47 million) to finance Islamist militants, a U.N. report said.
The figure was included in a report on foreign fighters prepared by a team of experts that monitors compliance with the United Nations Security Council's al Qaeda sanctions regime. The report, dated May 19, was distributed on Tuesday.
"A money transfer business owned by the sister and brother-in-law of an Australian foreign terrorist fighter, Khaled Sharrouf, was shut down," the group said in its report
"It is suspected that the business was sending up to A$20 million to countries neighboring the conflict zone to finance terrorism," it added, without providing details on the neighboring countries.
Australia last year issued arrest warrants for Sharrouf and another Australian citizen believed to be fighting with Islamic State in Syria after images emerged of the two holding the severed heads of Syrian soldiers.
Media reports about the money transfer business linked to Sharrouf's family have cited much lower estimates for funds sent to the Middle East than the A$20 million described in the U.N. panel's report.
Analysts and Western government officials say Islamic State finances its operations through the sale of oil from oil-producing territory it has seized, the sale of cultural heritage artifacts and works of art, extortion and ransoms, as well as private donations.
The panel's report also said that there were at least 25,000 foreign fighters from more than 100 countries fighting in various organizations tied to al Qaeda around the world.
The report said that two countries "with global assessment capabilities" have stated that some 20,000-22,000 foreign fighters are active in the Syria-Iraq conflict zone alone, where Islamic State has taken over large swaths of territory
The 15-nation Security Council is scheduled to discuss the problem of foreign fighters on Friday.
Islamic State has proclaimed a caliphate to rule over all Muslims according to strict medieval precepts.
(Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Leslie Adler)