Last week’s open debate at the UN Security Council explored the increasing interconnectedness between small-time criminals and terrorist groups, the criminal-turned-terrorist phenomenon is increasing in frequency due to the groups overlapping characteristics; International Consultant, Tamara Makarenko highlighted the strong links between organized crime and terrorism, both occupying similar spaces, using similar tactics and both financing their activities through the black market, before going on to say that the Islamic State acted like any other overseas criminal group, building massive underground networks sustaining their operations. Makarenko urges the international community to recognise the relationship between terrorists and criminal organisations, remarking “that this heightened connection [between criminals and terrorist cells] may hinder the ability to fight terrorism, and increases the danger of criminal groups”, noting the role that the internet plays in illegal activities.
ISIL’s 2015 revenue, according to the Financial Action Task Force, was sourced through the occupation of territories, controlling banks and natural resources, kidnapping for ransom and donations through non-profit organizations. The illegal sale of oil played a crucial role in the group’s initial success, the majority sold in neighbouring countries. Extortion tactics were routinely used, demanding money from businesses, and bank robberies extracted wealth out of the community. The report also referred to human trafficking, heightened sexual exploitation, child soldiers and forced labour within the territories providing a source of cheap manpower and finances, furthermore, acting as a form of propaganda, driving recruitment and suppressing political dissent. Trafficking of Afghan heroin through its territories was predicted to have an annual value of $1 billion. Michèle Coninsx, Executive Director of the Counter-Terrorism Committee outlined that the group’s decline was strongly related to the disruption of the flow of finances, through the uprooting of the structures holding drug traffickers, illegal weapon sales and kidnappers together.
Regarding small-scale terrorist groups within Western society, extremist groups use similar recruitment strategies to those with organised criminal groups, new recruits comprised of ethnic youth gangs and petty criminals. Prisons serve as tools for radicalization, exposing petty criminals to extreme forms of political violence. Considering Europe’s attacks largely come from people with criminal backgrounds, those with easy access to forgeries, weapons and sources of funding were more successful in conducting attacks. The criminal-turned-terrorist phenomenon is found in areas with an existing extremist base, radicalizing fringe groups. Alex Schmid’s ICCT paper argues that increased interconnectedness through the internet has granted easy access to violent ideas, considering the hugely influential online presence that ISIL held; the digital environment has placed existing illegal organisations alongside terrorist groups, expanding the influence of extremist groups.
With governments limited in their powers to regulate internet activity, the international community’s concern for the issue grows: Yuri Fedetov, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime concluded the weeks debate stating that, “We need to reinforce investment in mechanisms for inter-agency, regional and international cooperation, including information and intelligence sharing”. Recognizing the links between terrorism and organised crime is useful in developing counter-terrorism measures in the future and reducing conflict on a local and global scale.