Terrorism, War and Organised Crime

(This page is seriously in need of an upgrade and many of the links are broken. I will attend to this in December 2008)
© John Lea 2003


Why do we need to deal with terrorism, war and political violence in a criminology course? Traditionally speaking the study of terrorism would find its place in the study of politics or international relations. However in todays globalised world not only are there important parallels in the structure and development of organised crime and terrorist organisations but their actual organisations increasingly intersect. The interface between organised crime and terrorist organisations has of course existed for some time and concerns such matters as use of same smuggling routes, terrorist groups themselves becoming involved in organised crime for the purposes of fund raising, or entering the drugs trade to raise money to pay for armaments and explosives.

In particular the period since "9/11" (i.e. 11th September 2001 when the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York were destroyed by hijacked airliners) saw security measures which had hitherto been seen as mainly contributing to the fight against organised crime, placed in a new context as anti-terrorism measures. Measures against money laundering are now, for example, seen as much part of the struggle against terrorist groups as against organised crime.


There is even less consensus about the definition of terrorism than there is about organised crime. Terrorism generally involves

  • audacious action (non conventional warfare, sometimes the activities of terrorist groups are referred to as 'asymmetric warfare', that is to say a small group, with a minimum of funds and fairly basic equipment, is able to inflict spectacular damage on an enemy much more powerful in terms of conventional military resources)

  • directed at non combatants (politicians, judges, businessmen or the general public ) by means of assassinations, kidnappings, bombs or other weapons)

  • aiming to produce a climate of fear conducive to the political changes desired by the group.

Rather than try and give a definitive definition here, your are urged to visit the web sites below to get some flavour of the issues involved in defining terrorism

article from the Guardian newspaper on US definitions of terrorism

United Nations web page on definitions 

Truth and Justice web site on definitions

Terrorism should be distinguished from guerilla warfare, a form of armed struggle conducted by unorthodox means but generally directed at military forces perceived as repressive or representing external occupying or colonising forces. Movements seeking to overthrow political regimes may engage in a mixture of political propaganda, terrorist actions and guerilla warfare. Each tactic will be predominant at particular stages of the struggle. Examples would be the struggle in Vietnam against French occupation (1946-54) and against American supported governments in South Vietnam (1960-75). The study of the interrelation between terrorism and armed struggles involving guerilla warfare is beyond our scope here. Our focus here is the relationship between groups whose predominant activity is terrorism and organised crime.

In terms of comparisons between terrorist and organised criminal groups, two remarks are in order.

Firstly, the activities of the two types of organisations are seen as fundamentally different:

  • organised crime is generally politically conservative. Its orientation is rarely towards political change but to making money or consolidating its power within the existing political and social system. However organised crime groups may seek to profit from political change that does take place. A good example is the way Russian organised crime groups profited from the privatisation of state assets following the collapse of the Soviet system.

  • terrorist groups generally seek the overthrow of the political status quo. They may see their actions as aimed at defending particular communities or redressing political and injustices when all other means have, in their eyes, failed. 

Secondly, when using terms like organised crime and terrorism there is always a need to distinguish between reference to particular groups and particular activities. When referring to organised crime we often bring the two together to refer to particular groups or networks of people engaged in particular types of criminal activities.

In talking about terrorism we have to be perhaps more careful to separate out the activity of terror from the groups who may use it. States may engage in terrorist activities, as indeed they may engage in organised crime activities. Indeed, organised crime groups may use terrorist tactics such as bombs, assassinations etc to intimidate the state or the public. But at present the term 'terrorists' is generally used in relation to groups which deploy terrorist methods to achieve political change. To the extent that such groups are successful they may end up becoming part of new legitimate governments, or they may change their tactics from the use of terror to that of peaceful democratic activity or a mixture of the two. The best example in Western Europe is the 'Good Friday Agreement' in Northern Ireland whereby the Provisional IRA has ceased its armed activities in return for the inclusion of Sinn Fein, the political party with which it has been seen as associated, into the government of Northern Ireland. 

Other groups may use terror as one of a number of tactics of political and armed struggle. They may move in and out of terrorism as the political circumstances dictate. A good example is the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) led by Yasser Arafat which during the 1990s moved away from from the use of terrorism and armed struggle and in 1993 signed the Oslo accords with Israel. These accords committed the PLO to renouncing violence and terrorism and established the Palestinian National Authority. Meanwhile, however, politicised Islamic groups were growing in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, leading to waves of 1990s suicide bombings by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, both of which oppose both the peace process and the existence of Israel. As the Oslo process collapsed and Arafat’s PLO found itself losing ground to the Islamic groups, younger radicals of the Tanzim and the al-Aqsa Brigades—two militias linked to Arafat—sought to compete with the increasingly popular Hamas by turning to terrorism themselves, including a deadly 2002 spree of suicide bombings by the al-Aqsa Brigades. 

The study of such groups reminds us that, much more than in the case of organised crime, the definition of who is a terrorist and who is a 'freedom fighter' is a question of political standpoint. Notwithstanding this we can still talk about terrorism as an activity or a method of conflict.

Some background: Terrorism and similar activites since World War II.

This is not the place for a comprehensive history or classification of the various conflicts in which terrorist tactics have been deployed. For more details consult the websites in the box on the left. What follows is very much a brief summary of the recent period. That is to say the period since the end of the Second World War 1939-45

for a short history of terrorism and more links go to the BBC website "September 11 in context"  

The last half of the 20th century

The 1950s and 60s were the period of a wave of national liberation struggles against the remaining European colonial empires in Africa and Asia. These wars of National Liberation involved guerilla forces, which combined guerilla warfare with periodic use of terrorist tactics. The struggle in Vietnam first against the French colonial regime and then against the South Vietnamese government was a major political focus during the 1960s. The use of terrorist tactics was illustrated by the Algerian FLN, fighting for independence from France, planting bombs in cafes in Algiers. In a famous movie 'The Battle of Algiers' the film maker Gillo Pontecorvo explored some of the issues.  Many such movements, having succeeded in their struggles against colonial regimes transformed themselves into the official government and state apparatus. Hence the phrase "yesterday's guerilla fighter as tomorrows statesman." The African National Congress of South Africa would be another obvious example here. 

During the 1970s and 80s these struggles continued, particularly in the Middle East and were joined by other forms of rebellion which bore the influence of the Cold War powers. The war in Afghanistan involved US support for Mujahadeen guerilla forces against Soviet backed government. Meanwhile  Soviet funding was provided for guerrilla groups in Latin America fighting against repressive states seen as backed by the US. Often the US and the Soviet Union acted indirectly via client states which funded guerilla movements Cuba channelled soviet funding to Latin America, Libya to Palestinian groups. The US funded Saddam Hussain's regime in Iraq for a time, and also channelled funds to right wing terrorist groups such as Nicaraguan Contras fighting against left leaning governments. This was mentioned in a previous lecture

Meanwhile older struggles involving terrorist tactics took on a new lease of life notably within Western Europe itself. There was a resurgence of the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the ETA group in Spain. The period also saw the phenomena of small far left and far right groups using terrorist tactics to create a climate of fear. The left-wing Red Brigades and various fascist terrorist groups were active in Italy while in West Germany the left-wing Red Army Fraction (Baader-Meinhof group) was active. These latter groups were 'pure' terrorist groups rather than national liberation groups using terrorist tactics as part of their arsenal. Unlike, for example, the IRA, they had no base of support in the working class communities on whose behalf they saw themselves as acting. In their theory their own activities (kidnapping or assassinating "enemies of the people") would itself create that support. The IRA has, as noted above, ceased armed activities as part of the Northern Ireland Peace Process. The Red Army Fraction is to all intents and purposes defunct while in Italy there has recently (2002-3) been some activity allegedly attributable to the Red Brigades 

a peaceful 21st century?

During the 1990s, following the end of Cold War and the collapse of USSR it was widely thought that the world was on the threshold of a new period of stability. Francis Fukuyama, an American intellectual closely associated with the government even wrote a book called The End Of History and the Last Man arguing that western style liberal democracy was "end point of mankind's ideological evolution" and the "final form of human government."

But now it is clear that the end of the Cold War had in many respects a politically destabilising effect. Conflicts which had been held in check by the Cold War 'balance of terror' between the United States and Western Europe on the one side, and the Soviet Union and its allies on the other, could now broke out. The old 'east-west' conflict of the Cold War has been replaced by a variety of conflicts involving a diversity of states, and regions and ad hoc groups using a diversity of tactics, including guerilla warfare and terrorism. 

read the annual reports of the Canadian 'project ploughshares' website for background to the major conflicts and wars in the world during the last decade

The most important such conflicts in recent years have been

The Guardian special report on Israel, Palestine and the Middle East conflict

article from The New York Review of Books  (January 2003) on suicide bombings in the Middle East conflict

BBC website on background to Israel and Palestine conflict



the Middle East: As mentioned already the conflict between present Israeli governments and Palestinian aspirations for statehood is widely regarded as one of the most important, and intractable conflicts in the world at this time. Palestinian groups prepared to use violence have in recent years added suicide bombing to their repetoire. Israeli military forces have themselves adopted a strategy of 'targeted assassinations' of those whom they regard as terrorists. The current (November 2003) conflict in Iraq following the invasion by US and British military forces has not been generally considered as involving terrorism, though of course like all such statements, this is not uncontroversial.

Guardian special report on Chechya

the Former Soviet Union: With the collapse of the Soviet power system hitherto suppressed conflicts have broken out in several areas of former Soviet domination. During the mid 1990s conflict in former Yugoslavia, involved large interventions by NATO and United Nations backed military forces. It was the conflict in former Yugslavia that led many experts to describe the dynamics of a new type of warfare in which terrorism and guerilla warfare merge with more traditional military forces (see below: section on 'New Wars')

Guardian special reports on conflict in West Africa

Africa: In particular Rwanda, Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, Liberia

Guardian special reports  on Afghanistan

Asia: In particular Afghanistan, recently invaded by US led forces as part of the 'war on terrorism' against the Al Quaeda group. It was alleged by the US and its allies that the Taliban regime in Afghanistan were offering sanctuary and training facilities to the Al Quaeda terrorist network

Guardian special reports on Al Quaeda

read an extract from Jason Burke's widely acclaimed book 'Al Quaeda'


Global: In the period since 11th September 2001 the main focus of the 'war on terror' led by the US and Britain has been on the Al Quaeda network which during the late 1990s undertook attacks on US facilities around the world, culminating in the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York on that day (more on Al Quaeda below). 

Parallel developments of terrorism and organised crime

It is now time to return to our main theme of parallels and connections between terrorism and organised crime. We shall focus on two issues. In this section we shall look at the similar growth dynamics of terrorism and organised crime. In the next section we shall look at how the two actually intersect and interact with each other.

As regards the similarlities in the growth dynamics of terrorism and organised crime there are two issues

  • the forces at work in the world today which have assisted the growth of organised crime have also assisted the growth of terrorism

  • the structural evolution of organised crime and terrorist organisation show similarities

Many of the features of contemporary globalisation that lie behind the expansion of organised crime also have a similar effect as regards terrorism

poverty, inequality and relative deprivation

We have already noted how globalisation has been a process of uneven development and widening inequalities. We have noted how the expansion of heroin and cocaine production in various parts of the world can be seen as a response to impoverishment and declining income to be gained from the legal economy in many poor countries

At the same time poverty and inequality together with the globalisation of mass media, and the products of mutlinational corporations enhances the sense of relative deprivation. Palestinian kids on the West Bank throwing stones at Israeli soldiers wear the same trainers and T- shirts as kids in London or New York. The globalisation of mass media make western fashions and living standards highly visible. 

One response is organised crime, in particular drug trading. Drug traffickers are entrepreneurs using unorthodox methods to get themselves a 'slice of the cake'  (read a section of a previous lecture on this topic here) they have no identity problems, they are businessmen through and through! Poor farmers growing coca plant or opium poppies are simply turning to the crop that will maximise their income. There is nothing radical about this.

But political radicalisation is another response to relative deprivation for those who want to change the system rather than simply find unorthodox ways of joining it. In Latin America marxist or nationalist inspired resistance movements are still strong. (The FARC in Colombia would be an example. By contrast in the Islamic societies in particular, older secular political ideologies such as communism and nationalism in poor countries have declined, particularly with the collapse of the Soviet Union. New generations of political radicals have found a new identity through Islam. Thus opposition is focused both on the US as the sole remaining superpower which is seen as the major cause of the impoverishment of the poor countries and on the local elites who are seen as the puppets of US domination and whose only interest is self-enrichment rather than the development of their country. Fundamentalists do not wish to join what they see as a corrupt western way of life, Islam provides a new identity which is not tied to any particular country or community. Where individual societies are impoverished, weak and fragmented, a religious and political identity which transcends any particular country or community is attractive. This is an important fact in understanding much terrrorism in the Middle East. It is often educated people from poor countries, who travel in and are familiar with the west who feel these problems most acutely. Several of the terrorists who flew airliners into the World Trade Center in New York in september 2001 were not country farmers from the hills of Afghanistan but university educated and trained in the west. 

criminal governance and the weakening state

Even in the strong states of Western Europe and the United States it is harder for national governments to regulate their economies. The ease with which finance can move around global networks, or companies can shift jobs to other parts of the world if wages or tax rates are perceived as too high, makes it difficult for states to effectively regulate economic matters.

In poor countries states are even weaker. In some areas they are virtually collapsed. Political analysts talk about 'failed states' in various poorer parts of the globe, Africa in particular. These are states in which national governments have little control over what goes on in their countries.

We have already mentioned how organised crime can profit from such areas. 'Captured states' can act as sancturies and secure locations for drugs production and refining, and money laundering. In such areas we see a resurgence of criminal governance in which organised crime groups become dominant fractions in the state or even begin to displace it. The conditions of nineteenth century Sicily which sustained the old Mafia are recreated in the globalised world of the twenty first century. We have seen this development in Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union. But in other areas, notably Chechnya, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Somalia we have seen non government groups (private guerilla armies and terrorist groups) exercise the same functions

This leads to an important change in the organisation of terrorism. During the 1960s to 1980s  terrorist groups were seen as being sponsored by the Cold War superpowers or their surrogates. Terrorist groups could not survive without some sources of state funding. But now terrorist groups may themselves capture weak states or indeed themselves provide the resources previously supplied by sponsoring states. Thus groups may establish bases and training camps in weak ungovernable areas. But the main aims of such groups are not restricted to that particular country as were traditional national liberation groups like the IRA. For example, the Al- Quaeda grouping around Osama Bin Laden during the late 1990s set up bases in Afghanistan where training and resources were offered to a variety of different Islamic terrorist groups from around the world. In the same way organised crime groups may use captured states as bases for money laundering or drugs production but they are not, like the old mafia, mainly focused on their power in that area. Captured states are rather bases for global operations. 

'New Wars'

A feature of weak states is the frequency with which local and regional wars and conflicts break out. The chart above and its associated web sites will give you information on the current state of such conflicts. A major feature of conflicts in these areas is the diversity of forces involved in them. Weak or near-collapsed states obviously find it difficult to levy taxation to pay for well trained regular armies. This opens the door to regional warlords with private guerilla armies and hired mercenaries. Terrorist groups and organised crime may be important sources of manpower and finance in such conflicts. 

Mary Kaldor in her book entitled New Wars (1999) written after the experience of the Balkan wars in Eastern Europe in the 1990s coined the phrase 'New Wars' to describe aspects of these types of conflicts which 

"involve a blurring of the distinctions between war (usually defined as states or organised political groups for political motives) organised crime (violence undertaken by privately organised groups for private purposes, usually financial gain) and large-scale violations of human rights (violence undertaken by states or politically organised groups against individuals)." (page 2)

"In contrast to the vertically organized hierarchical units that were typical of 'old wars', the units that fight these wars include a disparate range of different types of groups such as paramilitary units, local warlords, criminal gangs, police forces, mercenary groups and also regular armies including breakaway units of regular armies." (page 8)

This leads in turn to boundary blurring between terrorists, states, local warlords and organised crime groups. The interactions of these entities will be focused on below. 

global communications and population movements

we have seen how global communications have facilitated the operations of global organised crime networks. Global movement of people enables network organisation to predominate with variety of operatives in different countries. In the same way terrorist groups are now able to operate on a global scale and take a network form. Al Quaeda, the group led by Osama Bin Laden and allegedly responsible for the bombing of the New York World Trade Center on 9th September 2001 is increasingly seen as a modern loose network structure able to operate in a variety of places

traditional and modern

We can now attempt to draw together some of these parallels and boundary blurrings between terrorist and criminal organisations. The box below illustrates these, admittedly in a rather schematic way. Things are constantly changing, and todays attempt at a classification may be outdated rapidly by events. It should be noted that we have left out of this classification groups such as the Red Brigades and Red Army Fraction. Our aim here is not to produce a comprehensive classification of different types of terrorist groups but rather to point to similarities between certain types of groups and organised crime. 



modern global

organised crime

based on power over local communities

'family' organisation

based on expansion of global markets

networks of entrepreneurs


based on support in  oppressed communities. 

military model of top down organisation 

based on sympathisers in several countries

networks of ideologically committed operatives 

According to this classification we have both in the case of terrorism and organised crime a distinction, albeit blurred, between traditional organisation and modern global network organisations. We have discussed this in the case of organised crime already in a previous lecture 

Thus traditional organised crime, epitomised by the old Sicilian Mafia was based on the weakness of the state in local communities. It sought domination and control over such communities. It may, as noted previously, fulfill quasi-state functions such as mediation, protection and repression. It also tends to have a 'family' type of organisation with local extended families headed by strong men ('Godfathers')

Groups which deploy terrorist methods in defence or liberation (however defined) of the communities within which they are based have some similarities. They may establish their bases in areas in which a particular state, other than the one they are fighting against, tolerates their presence, or where that state is weak and cannot really prevent them setting up camp. Such was the case with many of the Palestinian camps and bases in countries such as the Lebanon. The 'enemy' was Israel but the organisational base was in surrounding states. In other examples the presence of terrorist groups within the state being fought against is based not so much on the weakeness of that state as on the perceived need to fight against it as a repressive organisation. Thus the FARC group in Colombia sees itself as 'liberating' certain areas of the country from the oppressive rule of the official state and military and protecting the poor against repression. The Provisional IRA in Northern Ireland during the 1980s saw its task as defending the Catholic communities of the province against the perceived repressive activities of the British state and its Loyalist Protestant allies. The ultimate goal was the unification of Ireland, and terrorist methods were regarded by the IRA and its supporters at that time as legitimate weapons both for community defence and for the longer term goal of Irish unity. The justification of such methods is of course another issue. Nothing we are saying here should be read as implying the moral justification of terrorism. 

Such groups also take on some of the quasi-state functions in the same way as traditional organised crime. The difference is whereas the Mafia was based on the weakness of the legal state apparatus the terrorist strategy is generally to keep the state at a distance by using force against it and the populations which support it. Either way the group ends up substituting itself for the state in various ways. Thus Catholic working class communities would be encouraged to report petty crime or disputes to the local IRA rather than the police (The Royal Ulster Constabulary). The IRA would allegedly mete out swift 'on the spot' justice such as knee-capping, tarring and feathering. These methods are not dissimilar to those deployed by the traditional Mafia organisations. Such groups would also operate various services of a 'welfare' nature to secure their popularity and support.

There are many groups around the world deploying terrorism which have a similar form of organisation. Many of the groups based in the Palestinian refugee camps are an obvious example. These camps will have minimum presence of legitimate state authorities and will be recruiting grounds for the various resistence groups. These groups will also provide law and order and welfare functions for the local communities whose support they seek as recruits for armed actions including, most recently, suicide bombings.

Finally, the organisation of such groups resembles to some extent that of traditional organised crime. There will be secrecy and widespread denial to protect the active armed members of such groups by their communal supporters. Whereas the silence among ordinary people about the Mafia was based on fear, in the case of groups like the IRA a good deal was also based on community support which provided a resevoir of volunteers and supporters. There would be local strong men who were leaders and in some ways resembled Mafia Godfathers. Loretta Napoleoni (2003) uses the term 'Shell-State' to describe the development of an economic and political structure by terrorist groups which may co-exist alongside that of the official state in which it resides. 

With such similarities in organisation it is easy to see how the boundaries between the two types of groups can become blurred. Local terrorist groups may run protection rackets to raise money for arms. For similar reasons they may engage in the drugs trade. This will be discussed further below. On the other hand, when such organisations decide to abandon terrorist methods for peaceful political activity there is already a network of contacts 'on the ground' with a basis of community support to facilitate this transformation.

By contrast the newer global organised crime illustrated by the international drugs trade shows a much more flexible form of network organisation. As far as crime groups are concerned, the aim is less the exercise of power in communities than money making through various forms of illegal trade (drugs, immigrant smuggling etc.) There is some evidence that success in the latter activity involves abandoning traditional structures in favour of a much more flexible network form of organisation.

It may be that the same thing is happening in the case of terrorism. The current focus on Al Quaeda has involved criticism of the notion that the group has a centralised leadership and a clear command structure rather like a Mafia family or traditional locally based resistance group. (Follow the links above, if you have not already done so, to discussions of Al Quaeda; in particular the material by Jason Burke) Rather than a traditional terrorist group what we are seeing is much more likely to be a looser form of globally operating network structure not unlike the network structures of modern organised crime. There is a figure head (Osama Bin Laden) and the channelling of resources for particular activities but no centralised command structure that makes all the decisions. Rather groups of local 'entrepreneurs' make contact, get approval for activities and perhaps some funding,but operate on their own initiative. 

Groups associated with Al Quaeda, although of course they may have roots in particular oppressed communities, tend to have a wider focus on the construction of a regional Islamic state and a general struggle to drive the "Zionists and Crusaders" (the US and its allies, in particular, Israel) from the Islamic lands around the world. In particular such groups will aim to strike not only at local elites but at US and Western targets--such as embassies for example--anywhere in the world. The destruction of tbe World Trade Center in New York in september 2001 and the horrendous number of deaths involved was by no means the first such 'long distance' operation by terrorist groups operating on a global rather than a local scale. But it was certainly the most spectactular.

Obviously a lot more needs to be known about the dynamics of this new form of terrorism. An implication is that the destruction of Al-Quaeda bases in Afghanistan by the US and their allies will have only been a temporary set back for global terrorist networks who are quite capable of operating independently and establishing new sources of supply and training facilities in other areas of the world.

Material on the new globalised terrorism

Mary Kaldor (2003) Terrorism as Regressive Globalisation. (on the openDemocracy website)

For the latest in US mainstream thinking what better place than the Rand Corporation website where there are two entire books you can look at (you need Acrobat Reader on your system)

Countering the New Terrorism by Ian O. Lesser, Bruce Hoffman, John Arquilla, David F. Ronfeldt, Michele Zanini, Brian Michael Jenkins

article by George Caffentzis on consequences of defining terrorism as 'war' rather than 'crime'

and some of the chapters in  Networks and Netwars: The Future of Terror, Crime, and Militancy edited by John Arquilla, David Ronfeldt 

ICT, an Israeli website with a large section on international terrorism


Interconnections between terrorism and organised crime

Having looked at parallels and similarities between the structure and growth of terrorism and organised crime we can turn to look at their actual interconnections. Louise Kelly, a criminologist, identifies the interface between terrorism and organised crime as follows

1) Terrorists engage in organized crime activity to support themselves financially
2) Organized crime groups and terrorists often operate on network structures and these structures sometimes intersect, terrorists can hide themselves among transnational criminal organizations
3) Both organized crime group and terrorists operate in areas with little governmental controls, weak enforcement of laws and open borders
4) Both organized criminals and terrorists corrupt local officials to achieve their objectives
5) Organized crime groups and terrorists often use similar means to communicate-exploiting modern technology
6) Organized crime and terrorists launder their money, often using the same methods and often the same operators to move their funds.

You can find a more comprehensive bibliography with many links to on-line material on the interconnections between terrorists, warlords and organised crime here

Here we shall elaborate on the first three

terrorists engage in organised crime activities

During the Cold War era, many terrorist groups were, as we have noted, covertly financed by the West or the Soviets. The superpowers to some extent used their funding of guerilla and terror groups as 'war by proxy'. The end of the Cold War seriously reduced this source of finance. Though in the Middle East countries like Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran were allegedly continuing to finance a variety of Palestinian groups in the region just as the United States was alleged to be financing various groups in Latin America. But certainly with the end of the Cold War terrorist groups sought new sources of finance. This was at the same time as the global drugs trade was expanding. It is inevitable therefore that terrorists should look to criminal activities as a source of finance.

A wealth of detail of the funding of terrorism is supplied in a recently published book by Loretta Napoleoni and the best advice is to get hold of a copy and read it. (details below) She details the various forms of traditional organised crime and 'project crime' activities that terrorist groups have engaged in to sustain their finances

  • bank robberies 

  • protection money was paid for example by many airlines and companies to Middle Eastern terrorist groups in the 1970s and 80s to protect against aircraft hijackings

  • drugs trading. During the conflict in former Yugoslavia during the 1990s the Kosovo Liberation Front was allegedly involved in drugs trading to finance its military activities. At the present time it is alleged that Al Quaeda groups in Afghanistan are alleged to be involved in opium growing in Afghanistan (see web link below - although Jason Burke, in his book on Al Quaeda - page 19 - denies this claim). There have been various allegations that Northern Ireland paramilitary groups have been involved in drugs trading

article on Kosovo Liberation Front involvement in drugs trade

US state department web page alledging terrorist involvement in global drugs trade

mutual use of networks and communications

Organised crime groups may provide smuggled arms and explosives to terrorist groups in exchange for drugs or diamonds etc. Terrorist groups make use of smuggling networks established by organised crime to move operatives around the world. People smuggling activities by criminal groups may include not just economic migrants but terrorists, particularly members of groups which operate globally. Criminal groups also provide money laundering services. Terrorist groups controlling terrain tax drug traffickers in return for protection. 

A good example is the FARC guerilla group in Colombia. Critics of FARC argue that the group protects coca growers from government anti-drugs activities in return for payment. But it is also argued that repression by government and right wing paramilitary forces leads coca growers to actively seek protection from FARC and other left guerilla groups. Supporters of FARC claim that it is concerned to find an alternative economic livelihood for poor farmers.

article on relations between drugs and guerilla groups in Colombia

Article arguing that Colombian guerilla organisation FARC is against the drugs trade 

Article by Roy Davies on history of diamond trade

weak states

Guerillas like FARC operate in areas of Colombia beyond the effective control of the central government. In other areas of the world weak or 'failed' states are often fragmented into fiefdoms run effectively by regional 'warlords' who exercise de facto control of large areas of territory. Regional warlords may provide sanctuary for both organised crime and terrorist groups. Terrorists may benefit from secure training grounds while drug traffickers will secure protection for drugs growing areas and refining laboritories. These groups, in return, will pay protection money derived from drug sales.Such is currently the state of affairs in Afghanistan. According to a recent report on the country by the International Monetary Fund

"The legal or de facto rulers of the areas in which opium was cultivated or through which it transited have also likely benefited from the opiate industry. These may have included, at various times and places, warlords, local commanders, provincial administrators, tribal leaders, and even the central government until the fall of the Taliban regime. Opium is believed to have played an important role in financing the war against the Soviet occupation, and thereafter the civil war, either indirectly through levies on producers and traders, or directly through the active and personal involvement of those in power. Taxes levied on opium by local authorities have also helped to strengthen the power of the regions over the center, and thereby reinforced the process that was at the origin of the opium economy.." (pages 43-44)


US Council on Foreign Relations terrorism website. Lots of factual material on almost all terrorist groups. But bear in mind where this site is coming from

Burke, Jason (2003) Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror . London: I.B. Tauris.

Kaldor, Mary (1999) New and Old Wars: Organised Violence in a Global Era.  Cambridge: Polity Press

Napoleoni, Loretta (2003) MODERN JIHAD: Tracing the Dollars Behind the Terror Networks. London: Pluto.

Maguire, K (1993) Fraud, extortion and racketeering: The black economy in Northern Ireland. Crime, Law and Social Change 20:4 pp 273-292.

Picarelli, John (2006) 'The Turbulent Nexus of Organised Crime and Terrorism: A theory of malevolent international relations.' Global Crime 7(1); 2-24